Kettering Bug Aerial Torpedo

The Kettering Bug was an experimental unmanned aerial torpedo, a forerunner of present-day cruise missiles. It was capable of striking ground targets up to 121 kilometres (75 mi) from its launch point, while traveling at speeds of 80 kilometres per hour (50 mph). The Bug's costly design and operation inspired Dr. Henry W. Walden to create a rocket that would allow a pilot to control the rocket after launch with the use of radio waves. The British radio controlled weapons of 1917 were secret at this time. These designs were forerunners of modern-day missiles. 

The prototype Bug was completed and delivered to the Aviation Section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1918, near the end of World War I. The first flight on October 2, 1918 was a failure: the plane climbed too steeply after takeoff, stalled and crashed. Subsequent flights were successful, and the aircraft was demonstrated to Army personnel at Dayton.

"The Kettering Bug had 2 successes on 6 attempts at Dayton, 1 of 4 at Amityville, and 4 of 14 at Carlstrom."

Despite some successes during initial testing, the "Bug" was never used in combat. Officials worried about their reliability when carrying explosives over Allied troops. By the time the War ended about 45 Bugs had been produced. The aircraft and its technology remained a secret until World War II.

During the 1920s, what had become the U.S. Army Air Service continued to experiment with the aircraft until funding was withdrawn.


A full-size reproduction of a Bug is on permanent display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. It was constructed by Museum staff members, and went on display in 1964.