Imagine the "greenies" uproar if this happened today.
The Battle of Palmdale
This aviation story dates back to 1956 and involves some USAF aviators
On the morning of 16 August 1956, Navy personnel at Point Mugu
prepared an F6F-5K for its final mission. The aircraft had been
painted overall high-visibility red. Red and yellow camera pods were
mounted on the wingtips. Radio remote control systems were checked,
and the Hellcat took off at 11:34 a.m., climbing out over the Pacific
Ocean. As ground controllers attempted to maneuver the drone toward
the target area, it became apparent that it was not responding to
radio commands. They had a runaway.
Ahead of the unguided drone lay thousands of square miles of ocean
into which it could crash. Instead, the old Hellcat made a graceful
climbing turn to the southeast, toward the city of Los Angeles. With
the threat of a runaway aircraft approaching a major metropolitan
area, the Navy called for help.
Five miles north of NAS Point Mugu, two F-89D Scorpion twin-jet
interceptors of the 437th Fighter Interceptor Squadron were scrambled
from Oxnard Air Force Base. The crews were ordered to shoot down the
rogue drone before it could cause any harm. Armed with wingtip-mounted
rocket pods and no cannon, the Scorpion was typical of the Cold War
approach to countering the "Red Menace." Each pod contained 52 Mighty
Mouse 2.75-inch rockets. Salvo-launched, the Mighty Mouse did not have
to have precision guidance. Large numbers of rockets would be fired
into approaching Soviet bomber formations to overwhelm them with sheer
numbers. Today, they would be used against a different kind of red
At Oxnard AFB, 1Lt. Hans Einstein and his radar observer, 1Lt. C. D.
Murray, leapt into their sleek F-89D. Simultaneously, 1Lt. Richard
Hurliman and 1Lt. Walter Hale climbed into a second aircraft. The
interceptors roared south after their target. The hunt was on.
Einstein and Hurliman caught up with the Hellcat at 30,000 feet,
northeast of Los Angeles. It turned southwest, crossing over the city,
then headed northwest. As the Hellcat circled lazily over Santa Paula,
the interceptor crews waited impatiently. As soon as it passed over an
unpopulated area, they would fire their rockets.
The interceptor crews discussed their options. There were two methods
of attack using the fire control system, from a wings level attitude
or while in a turn. Since the drone was almost continuously turning,
they selected the second mode of attack. In repeated attempts, the
rockets failed to fire during these maneuvers. This was later traced
to a design fault.
The drone turned northeast, passing Fillmore and Frazier Park. It
appeared to be heading toward the sparsely populated western end of
the Antelope Valley. Suddenly, it turned southeast toward Los Angeles
again. Time seemed to be running out. Einstein and Hurliman decided to
abandon the automatic modes, and fire manually. Although the aircraft
had been delivered with gun sights, they had been removed a month
earlier. After all, why would a pilot need a gun sight to fire
unguided rockets with an automatic fire control system?
The interceptors made their first attack run as the Hellcat crossed
the mountains near Castaic. Murray and Hale set their intervalometers
to "ripple fire" the rockets in three salvos. The first crew lined up
their target and fired, missing their target completely. The second
interceptor unlea shed a salvo that passed just below the drone.
Rockets blazed through the sky and then plunged earthward to spark
brush fires seven miles north of Castaic. They decimated 150 acres
above the old Ridge Route near Bouquet Canyon.
A second salvo from the two jets also missed the drone, raining
rockets near the town of Newhall. One bounced across the ground,
leaving a string of fires in its wake between the Oak of the Golden
Dream Park and the Placerita Canyon oilfield. The fires ignited
several oil sumps and burned 100 acres of brush. For a while the
blazes raged out of control, threatening the nearby Bermite Powder
Company explosives plant. The rockets also ignited a fire in the
vicinity of Soledad Canyon, west of Mt. Gleason, burning over 350
acres of heavy brush.
Meanwhile, the errant drone meandered north toward Palmdale. The
Scorpion crews readjusted their intervalometers and each fired a final
salvo, expending their remaining rockets. Again, the obsolete,
unpiloted, unguided, unarmed, propeller-driven drone evaded the
state-of-the-art jet interceptors. In all, the jet crews fired 208
rockets without scoring a single hit.
The afternoon calm was shattered as Mighty Mouse rockets fell on
downtown Palmdale. Edna Carlson was at home with her six-year-old son
William when a chunk of shrapnel burst through her front window,
bounced off the ceiling, pierced a wall, and finally came to rest in a
pantry cupboard. Another fragment passed through J. R. Hingle's garage
and home, nearly hitting Mrs. Lilly Willingham as she sat on the
couch. A Leona Valley teenager, Larry Kempton, was driving west on
Palmdale Boulevard with his mother in the passenger seat when a rocket
exploded on the street in front of him. Fragments blew out his left
front tire, and put numerous holes in the radiator, hood, windshield,
and even the firewall. Miraculously, no one was injured by any of the
falling rockets. Explosive Ordn ance Disposal teams later recovered 13
duds in the vicinity of Palmdale. It took 500 firefighters two days to
bring the brushfires under control.
Oblivious to the destruction in its wake, the drone passed over the
town. Its engine sputtered and died as the fuel supply dwindled. The
red Hellcat descended in a loose spiral toward an unpopulated patch of
desert eight miles east of Palmdale Airport. Just before impact, the
drone sliced through a set of three Southern California Edison power
lines along an unpaved section of Avenue P. The camera pod on the
airplane's right wingtip dug into the sand while the Hellcat
cart-wheeled and disintegrated. There was no fire.