ELINT Drone: “Project Lightning Bug” (1962) Ryan Aeronautical

This video talks about Project Lighting Bug really interesting watch.


The Ryan Model 147 Lightning Bug is a jet-powered drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle, produced and developed by Ryan Aeronautical from the earlier Ryan Firebee target drone series.

Beginning in 1962, the Model 147 was introduced as a reconnaissance RPV (Remotely Piloted Vehicle, nomenclature of that era) for a United States Air Force project named Fire Fly. Over the next decade — assisted with secret funding from the recently formed National Reconnaissance Office along with support of the Strategic Air Command and Ryan Aeronautical’s own resources[2] — the basic Model 147 design would be developed into a diverse series of variants configured for a wide array of mission-specific roles, with multiple new systems, sensors and payloads used, modified and improved upon during the operational deployment of these drones in Southeast Asia. Missions performed by the Model 147 series RPVs included high- and low-altitude photographic and electronic aerial reconnaissance, surveillance, decoy, electronic warfare, signals intelligence, and psychological warfare.

The Ryan drones were designed without landing gear for simplicity and to save weight. Like its Firebee predecessor, the Model 147 could either be air-launched from a larger carrier aircraft or launched from the ground using a solid rocket booster; at completion of its mission the drone deployed its own recovery parachute which could be snatched in mid-air by a recovery helicopter (in a combat environment it was naturally not desired to recover the drone on, from or near enemy territory and ground or water impact could also cause damage to or loss of the drone or its payload).

At the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 the U.S. military’s available funding and need for combat drones severely declined, even as Teledyne Ryan introduced further advanced developments of the Model 147 series such as the BGM-34 strike and defense suppression RPVs. Costs of maintaining the Lightning Bugs at full readiness could no longer be justified. Only by the 1990s did substantial interest, organization and funding again emerge from the U.S. Air Force and intelligence agencies to develop, acquire and widely deploy combat UAVs.

ELINT Drone: “Project Lightning Bug” (1962) Ryan Aeronautical