History Station 4 – Military Contributions

Although Kettering never served in the military, he was a supporter of the military and during war, his inventive genius and ingenuity were placed freely at the disposal of the government. In many ways he contributed to the development of useful devices for his country’s use in electrical and mechanical engineering and aeronautics. The ignition system used on Liberty Motors was his invention.  During World War I Kettering invented the first pilotless missile – The Bug. At the request of the Army Signal Corps in 1917, Kettering started work on the Bug in Dayton, Ohio.  With the help of Colonel Edward A. Deeds, Bill Chryst, Thomas Midgley, John Sheats and Orville Wright, the Bug was tested and perfected.

The missile weighed 300 pounds and was able to hold up to 300 pounds of explosives.    It took off from a small four-wheeled carriage which rolled down a portable track, its own little two-cycle 40 horsepower engine, built by Henry Ford, meeting the requirements for both pressure and vacuum necessary to operate the automatic controls.  The direction of the flight was insured by a small gyro, elevation from a small supersensitive aneroid barometer, so sensitive that moving it from the top of a desk to the floor operated the controls; keeping the Bug at its proper altitude.

The Bug cost $400 to build, Including the $50 gasoline engine built by Henry Ford. To launch the Bug, tracks were pointed toward the objective.  The distance to the target, and wind direction and intensity, were figured out as accurately as possible.  The number of revolutions of the engine required to take the Bug to the target was then figured, and a cam set.  Then, when the engine had turned exactly that proper number of revolutions, the cam fell into position, the two bolts holding on the wings folded up, like a jack rabbit’s ears, and the Bug plunged to earth as a bomb.

The first tests of the Bug were very successful and Kettering and the others took it to Washington for a demonstration.  The first demonstration didn’t go as planned, needing very little gasoline to operate, Kettering put only a small amount in the Bug, hoping it would only leave the track and make a straight flight of two or three hundred yards.  Kettering and the others, however, didn’t realize how little gasoline the Bug really needed and the small amount put into it caused it to climb to between 600 and 800 feet into the air.  The Bug then turned and headed for the group watching, making them all run in different directions to avoid being hit by the Bug.  The Bug eventually crashed, luckily without anyone getting hurt.

After returning to Dayton, ailerons with proper controls were added to the Bug and another demonstration was scheduled.  The plan this time was to fly the Bug at 50 miles per hour and those watching stayed in automobiles, in order to be near the Bug when it crashed.  The test flight didn’t go as planned and the Bug made a circle around Dayton, instead of flying straight.  Of course, the fear was that the enemy would get word of the Bug and either find it before Kettering and his team or replicate it.  Finally, the Bug was found south of Xenia, Ohio when farmers pointed Kettering and the others to where it had crashed.

A total of 50 Bugs were produced by the end of World War I.  The Bug was built in Dayton, Ohio at the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company.  The Bug was never sent to combat due to unresolved problems and ongoing refinement tests.  After the war ended, the U.S. Army conducted additional tests, but they were halted in the 1920s due to lack of funding.  To learn more: http://www.daytonhistorybooks.com/page/page/4728801.htm