Home » Air » Retro Vid: Drones Shooting Air-to-Ground Missiles in the ‘70s

Retro Vid: Drones Shooting Air-to-Ground Missiles in the ‘70s

by John Reed on March 23, 2012

In case anyone doesn’t already know it, spy drones have been used in war for decades and this video shows one of the America’s first drones launching an air to ground missile.

Yup, this 1972 film clip shows C-130-launched BQM-34 Firebee drones (first developed in the early 1950s) firing an AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile and an AGM-45 Shrike anti-radar missile. Yeah, we’ve been firing air to ground missiles from drones for 40-years or more.

On Monday we’ll have more on the combat history of drones like the BQM-34, thousands of which saw service during the Cold War.

Click through the jump for the film.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Cthel March 23, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Heck, the USA dropped bombs on the Japanese in WW2 using purpose built drones.

And then promptly forgot all about it, leading to the "revolutionary" idea of putting weapons on drones being invented twice more (firebees and then predators)


blight_ March 23, 2012 at 5:16 pm

True, but all of these drones are radio controlled at very close ranges. The sat-com UAV is still impressive in its own right.


Mastro March 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm

If a C130 has to be 1000 yards away- it does sorta defeat the purpose.

SAT-COM is the key.

Nice to see they were thinking –


blight_ March 23, 2012 at 5:44 pm

In a time of dumb-fire rockets, it was much more accurate and impressive than spray and pray.

The alternative use perhaps might've been the use of unmanned parasite fighters to defend bombers: just drop them onto an enemy airfield when you're done.


P&Wc1Spec. March 27, 2012 at 12:50 am

Closer to 3 miles and inline with the drone.


SMSgt Mac March 23, 2012 at 11:24 pm

Not that close range, the MCGS instalation that earned the 'Cyrano' nickname was used to network C&C of the drones over North Vietnam from a very safe distance. Still point taken: both the autonomy of the UAVs and the ability to guide them from half a world away are giant steps ahead of back in the 'early days'.


blight_ March 24, 2012 at 12:20 am

Worst case scenario, the parasite drone launched from the SR's to Lop Nor was intended to self-guide back out over China for retrieval. INS guidance, I think?


SMSgt Mac March 24, 2012 at 11:35 pm

INS at first followed by INS w/LORAN back in those days

blight_ March 24, 2012 at 11:46 pm

That said, I was digging into the DC-130 and was trying to turn up info on the range of the MCGS. I'm either not digging deep enough, or that info wasn't common knowledge, or it was knowledge that was best kept under wraps. Hrm.


blight_ March 24, 2012 at 12:26 am

Worst case scenario, the parasite drone launched from the SR's to Lop Nor was intended to self-guide back out over China for retrieval. INS guidance, I think?

From dreaded Wikipedia: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_DC-130)

And for the drone launched from the SR's (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_D-21). Sadly, I kept thinking it was DF-21…which is actually a Chinese missile.


blight_ March 24, 2012 at 12:43 am

As for the Firebee, an interesting, diverse history:

And I thought the Predator was one heck of a workhorse. The mil really got their moneys worth out of this one…


Lance March 24, 2012 at 1:16 am

These where the way of the future and in none conversational wars in South Asia even these old drones could kick some Islamic but. Same concept new birds now.


Jonathan Williams March 24, 2012 at 10:38 am



Praetorian March 24, 2012 at 2:50 pm

The US Navy has also been useing UAV heli's since the 1962 with the QH-50A
DASH. In sevice with the Navy from 1962 to 1997. Was able to carry two torpedos or a Mk-57 nuclear depth charge.


blight_ March 24, 2012 at 7:13 pm

The -B version of the Fire Scout is armed, but mostly for land attack. Not sure if it can carry a meaningful ASW payload…


Rob S March 24, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Both big and small Firescout can be armed. The little one can carry 600lb of payload, which is not exactly a joke. Work is being done to place the Compact Rapid Attack Weapon on the small Firescout. Its a small 90kg torpedo based on the Anti Torpedo Torpedo design. Its doubtful such a small weapon could chase down a nuclear submarine, but it should be just fine to blow the screw off a diesel boat.


Richard O'Brien March 24, 2012 at 7:49 pm

North Vietnam had the most heavily defended air space in the world in 1972, which was the prime motivation for developing drones (and heavily defended bridges). During the Christmas Bombing of the Hanoi/Haiphong area, in December 1972, several B-52s were shot down.
Pentrating Chinese air defense systems today would be virtually impossible but the U.S. continued SR-71 overflights of Red China until 1972. (Mao asked Nixon to stop the recon flights.) By 1986, the U.S. had between 60-80 nuclear weapons of varies sorts targeting Moscow. B-52s were incapable of penetrating Moscow defenses by 1963. The B-2… within just a few years of deployment.


benny March 26, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Be nice if I could see the video but the NMCI gods won't allow it.
Access to this site has been denied in accordance with Navy Policy to safeguard the security posture and/or maintain the operational integrity of the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) network.


P&Wc1Spec March 27, 2012 at 3:37 am

Both my Dad and my Uncle were pilots in Vietnam, my Dad flew B-52s while my Uncle started out in F105s then moved on to F-4s in 1969. In years past I have heard some crazy stories from them, both are gone now but remembered. They told me several stories about the Firebees and how on more than one occasion they saved their butts while on highly defended mission.

They told me how the BQM-34 Firebee drones were used heavily as decoys sending out electronic signals that would mimic the B-52s electronic signature and other bomber/attack aircraft while on high value missions around Hanoi and other highly defended targets.

They also delivered chaff in which several would be launched at the same time to saturate a few square miles of sky to clog up the SAM sites radar. On some of my Dad's missions they would carry one under each wing, they would launch them well ahead of the flight of bombers to create on the SAMs radar images of two to three times the aircraft that were actually up there.


John May 29, 2012 at 9:40 am

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