United States Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory

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US Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory developed the FDL-23, a 2nd generation Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) In the early 1970s, two Ryan Model 147G reconnaissance drones were requisitioned from the Air Force Museum by the Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory at WPAFB to investigate high maneuverability flight and discover whether a high performance remotely piloted aircraft could perform some of the same missions as manned aircraft. The 147G was particularly suited for this since it had an extended nose section for equipment, a more powerful engine, and a larger wing than previous FireBee variants. The aircraft was fitted with a reinforced wingbox, an active rudder, a nose video camera, a Vega digital control/data link, speed brakes, and a Lear Sieglar digital proportional autopilot. The modified drone was originally designated the FDL-23 and later the XQM-103. Six captive and six free flight test flights were performed, with the machine able to perform 10G turns in its final configuration. On its fifth mission, the engine shaft bent at 10 G's and impacted the compressor housing, damaging its engine. On its sixth mission, the aircraft refused to accept ground commands and self-recovered in the mountains north of Los Angeles with minor damage. The Program was completed successfully, and met all of its development objectives. Several major system including the autopilot and the command/control system were adopted by production drone programs. The major limitation to using the RPA for fighter missions was the lack of a video tracking system, which made tracking maneuvering targets extremely difficult. At the conclusion of the program, the aircraft was donated to the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, and became a static display at the entrance to Eagle Range. This aircraft reappeared at Edwards AFB without the engine as a captive test platform for optics testing.

The Program Manager was John Seaberg, the project manager was Capt. Rus Records, and the two Air Force test pilots were Maj. Mel Hyashi and Maj. Skip Holm. Maj. Holm later distinguished himself on the high performance aircraft racing circuit as the pilot of the P-51 "Dago Red" in which he won the world Unlimited championship.


Larsen, T., "Remotely Piloted Vehicle Technology Development Using the XQM-103 Research Test Vehicle," SAE Technical Paper 751109, 1975