Almost all of the nine children of Joseph and Rosa Kennedy died not by their own death. Their son, Edward, the then-senator of Massachusetts, even called it a “family curse.” The most well-known case, of course, occurred with the 35th US president – until now conspiracy experts can not put an end to the motives of the murder, although officially everything has long been uncovered. But the “curse” did not begin with John, but with his brother Joseph Kennedy – Jr.. The military pilot died while performing a dangerous operation on a practically unique for that time aircraft, which was a drone with nine tons of explosives.
Exactly 75 years ago, September 9, 1943, the radio-controlled Fritz X (the same FX-1400) bomb sent from the airplane carried the Italian battleship “Roma” in the waters of Italy. In subsequent battles the projectiles of this model were seriously damaged by the Allied ships. Opportunities for new weapons alarmed the United States and Britain: the Germans already had good positions in long-range guns – which only the “Fau” project is worth. And the remote control of the projectile opened up new possibilities for combat operations. The British and the Americans had nothing to answer. It was necessary urgently to search for the decision which demanded advanced technologies for that moment. And despite this, it still proved to be a failure in terms of efficiency, besides, not one person was killed.
From what was
A direct analogue of Fritz X was the AZON radio-controlled bomb, but the allies also developed another, more unusual project. They called him “Aphrodite”. The idea was to stuff the plane with explosives, bring it to the enemy object and send it to the target. The Japanese in the autumn of 1944 began to use kamikaze for such tasks, but this approach was not considered in Western culture. The allies had to figure out how to do everything without the death of the pilots.
Engineers came to the idea of drones. Build a plane from scratch or send to the last flight of new copies of existing models would be too costly. Smekalka suggested that you can use the aircraft that have been in combat, with a worked out resource. After all, to fulfill the mission, they did not even need to land to land – only to get up in the air and stay there for several hours. An important condition was the maximum possible carrying capacity – there is not much explosives in the understanding of the military. In the framework of Operation Aphrodite, it was planned to destroy especially important targets: docks with German submarines, military plants, experimental weapons.
Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Consolidated B-24 Liberator were ideally suited to the tasks described . Heavy bombers proved themselves well in combat operations, besides, for their experiments, the Allies had enough written-off aircraft of this type.
They decided to start the aircraft with the explosive torpex. It was originally used in torpedoes (hence the name: torpedo explosive) and is a more powerful analogue of TNT.
From the B-17 and B-24 they got everything that added them unnecessary weight: machine guns, sheet armor, radio transmitters. Unmanned modifications were given the names BQ-7 and BQ-8, respectively. Inside, the engineers placed the equipment for remote control. The power of the transmitters of those years was not enough to control the bomber at a great distance. Because of this, together with the drone, it was necessary to lift a manned plane into the air, which was supposed to fly nearby.
Having worked out the plan, the Allies faced a new problem. Despite the automation of the flight, the plane still needed pilots – it could not take off without the people in the cabin. Worse still, after take-off, the pilots had to leave the bomber. So the B-17 was turned into a cabriolet, cutting off the carcass of the cabin. According to the idea, the crew had to take out the board to the desired height, transfer control of the drone to people in the second plane and then jump off with parachutes.
Smoke, cameras, motor
In 1944, tests began. Everything went smoothly until the moment when the drone left people. Remote control of the aircraft was complicated due to imperfect systems of that time and a lot of technical problems. For example, it was originally intended to control the bomber only by visual observation: the pilot from another aircraft sees the drone and adjusts the course. For this purpose, a smoke generator was installed under the fuselage, which left a dense trail. Of course, he did not add any masking, but the crew of the second plane saw the bomber in the sky and understood its direction. But without knowing the speed, height and other indicators, management was too complicated.
Then the military decided to install two cameras. The first “looked” forward, in the course of the bomber’s movement. The other was sent to the instruments. The pilot peered at the small screen (it was somehow inappropriate to talk about the resolution and quality of the picture), switching between cameras, and moving the levers on a small console, the signals from which were transferred to the drone.
However, the pilots, who were supposed to lift the plane into the air, had much worse. Not only that they flew in the literal sense of the word on the bomb (and with the almost exhausted flying resource), so they also risked a great risk during the jump. A participant in the program “Aphrodite” Kenneth Waters recalled that this was the most dangerous moment in an already complicated mission. Pilots had to get out right through the top of the cabin, they crashed into the air stream, and then fell into a trail of thick smoke. In subsequent modifications of the BQ-7 appeared a hatch for exit from the cabin.
Participation is voluntary, but who will not agree …
The military leadership understood: these missions are almost suicidal, anything can go wrong. Therefore, all pilots for the “Aphrodite” were recruited from among the volunteers. Among the volunteers was Joseph Kennedy – Jr.. By the second half of 1944, he could easily be demobilized, but the glory of John F. Kennedy did not bother: by that time, the future US president had received many military awards, participating in battles in the navy. Joseph was a pilot of the Navy aviation, but in the battles he was particularly unlucky. Fearing to return home without significant merit in the war, the pilot agreed to participate in the “Aphrodite”. Although participation was voluntary, but subscribing, the person undertook to fulfill five missions. Not everyone lived to the second.
The aircraft were based at the British airfield Fersfield, and the main targets were in France and Germany. The first combat sortie on August 4 turned into a complete failure: three planes out of four crashed, not reaching the right points, one pilot died. The reason is problems with remote control. Only one BQ-7 inflicted at least some damage to the Germans, falling 450 meters from the V-2 platform and slightly damaging it. Despite the bad result, the allies continued Operation Aphrodite. It did not become more successful: planes fell for various reasons (or they were shot down by the Germans), another pilot was killed.
On August 12, a new flight was planned. The target is an experimental V-3 weapon that made Britons nervous, according to the Resistance, a cannon from France could smash London to the ground. Previous attempts to destroy the “V-3” failed, and the allies again decided to use the drones.
Lifting the BQ-8 was to lieutenants Joseph Kennedy and Wilford Willie. They took off, accompanied by P-38 Lightning fighters, as well as De Havilland Mosquito bombers (under the leadership of Elliott Roosevelt, son of the 32nd US president) and Lockheed Ventura, who were to intercept control after the jump of the pilots. The crew climbed to the desired height and checked the radio. Immediately after that, nine tons of torpex exploded.
The wreckage of the BQ-8 fell right on the village of Blitburg, about 50 people were injured. The explosion damaged the nearby De Havilland Mosquito, but Roosevelt managed to land. The remaining aircraft were not affected. Kennedy and Willie were missing: even fragments of bodies were not found.
Of course, there were no black boxes on the drones. Presumably, the explosion occurred due to poor-quality insulation, which led to the inclusion of a detonator – it was in case the plane would have to be detonated before it hit the ground.
The death of two more people did not affect the plans of the allies: “Aphrodite” was still trying to use, but time after time missions turned into failures. Only in January 1945 it became clear that in the current state the project was inefficient, and the program was canceled. Nevertheless, the experience gained was useful in the further development of remote control systems.