Cape May Airport, NJ: In 1985, Mr. Charles Trojahn of Somerset, New Jersey took a ride to upstate New York to visit his daughter. Being a helicopter pilot with a strong interest in anything relating to aviation and World War II, he ended up stopping at a surplus warehouse. Mr. Trojahn explained to staff at Naval Air Station Wildwood (NASW) Aviation Museum; “I stopped at the warehouse and saw this Radioplane, I knew nothing about it other than the fact it was used during the war. So, I had to have it! I also picked up a “Gibson Girl” which was a WWII survival radio transmitter and a model aircraft referred to as a “silhouette” used to teach aircraft identification.” Mr. Trojahn traveled to Cape May Airport on August 17 to donate the items.
As it turned out, the Radioplane was the United States’ first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or “drone.” The compact aircraft appeared just prior to World War II and was used by the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) and United States Navy. Manufactured by the Radioplane Company, it was the first mass-produced drone in the United States. The aircraft were used as target drones with a maximum speed of 85 miles per hour. The use of these drones was key to training anti-aircraft gunners who needed to hit a target several miles up. Mr. Trojahn commented, “Since they were used as targets, most were shot down and destroyed, so I don’t think there are many around today.”
This is certainly a unique and interesting donation and NASW staff is grateful to Mr. Trojahn. There are several fascinating anecdotes to the donation. The company Radioplane was started by Reginald Denny who was a World War I British airman and aspiring actor. Denny immigrated to the United States in search of acting jobs in Hollywood. He eventually opened the Reginald Denny Hobby Shop in Hollywood which would become Radioiplane, now known as Northrop Grumman Corporation.
The drone has another Hollywood connection. It was at the Radioplane plant at the Van Nuys Aiport in Los Angeles that Army photographer David Conover saw a young assembler whom he believed had potential as a model. The girl was photographed in the factory, which led to a screen test for Norma Jeane Dougherty, who later changed her name to Marilyn Monroe. 15,000 of the drones were manufactured laying the groundwork for today’s multi-billion dollar UAV industry.
Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum is a non-profit aviation museum housed in an original wooden hangar from World War II, Historic Hangar #1. NASW Foundation’s mission is to restore and rehabilitate the hangar to its former glory, educate the public and honor the 42 men who perished while training here. The museum is open daily 9am-5pm. For more information visit www.usnasw.org or call (609)886-8787.