Photo: Bill Shaw 1958


An RCAT is essentially a large model airplane with radio remote controls. It has a 12-foot wing span, maybe a 10-foot fuselage, and the propeller is close to 4 feet long.

RCATS are powered by a four-cylinder gasoline engine, and make a unique buzzing sound when they get within earshot. The fuselage is painted bright red to aid in photographing it inflight as well as finding it after it is on the desert floor following missile intercept. I should mention that movie cameras are attached to both the target and missile tracking radars during a launch, and movies are made of the entire sequence, automatically aimed by the radars.

How can a tiny 12-foot model airplane look like an enemy fighter or bomber to a radar? By mounting radar reflectors called ‘corner reflectors’ in pods on the RCAT’s wingtips. These reflect energy back to the radar with very little loss of signal strength, no matter what perspective the plane presents to the radar. The result is this petite model plane buzzing around over the desert looks like a B-36 bomber to a radar. This is stealth in reverse, anti-stealth you might say.

There is a parachute packed inside the drone’s fuselage, and when the engine stops running, out pops the 'chute' to gently lower it to the ground. I think a tuning fork device is used to sense the when the engine stops. After all the missiles are fired a recovery team from Oscura Range Camp drives across the desert to recover their drones. The drone might be gone, recovered by the ASP team to be displayed at their home base.