Photo: Alan Graham 1958


These two Radio Controlled Aerial Targets (RCATS) were used as a display for the thousands of VIPs who toured the camp after Sputnik I. The RCAT in foreground shows what happens when a Nike Ajax missile detonates nearby. The drone is severely burned and peppered with shrapnel holes. The wing was also shot off and is lying in the foreground. When shot down, RCATS would be gently lowered to the desert floor on a parachute. Some of the drones could be patched up, maybe a few parts changed and then flown again.

The RCAT in back is a pristine one to show the visitors what they looked like new. Ventura RadioPlane, Ventura, California, made the RCATS. (I heard that Marilyn Monroe once worked at that plant.) I believe the drones cost in the neighborhood of $1500 each (1955 period). Pretty expensive day when we were shooting down maybe nine per day plus the others that crashed on takeoff or iced up at altitude and plummeted. Attempts were made to use an Offset Value in the Nike computer to simulate hitting the target, and scoring would be accomplished using the event recorder, sparing the RCAT. Although successful, this program never gained wide acceptance at Red Canyon but McGregor Range, I'm told, used it much of the time. At Red Canyon, when we fired a Nike, we wanted to be able to see the downed drone and count shrapnel holes. Forget that "Virtual Target" stuff. Besides, the RCAT and/or its propeller made a terrific trophy for the shooters to take back to the men at home base.

See those pods on the wingtips of the top RCAT? They contained radar corner reflectors which greatly amplified the returned radar signal. Without the pods, we probably could not have seen these little twelve-foot wingspan drones on our radar.

The building is the Commo Shack.