Retro Vid: Drones Shooting Air-to-Ground Missiles in the ’70s

In case anyone doesn’t already know it, spy drones have been used in war for decades and this video shows one of the America’s first drones launching an air to ground missile.

Yup, this 1972 film clip shows C-130-launched BQM-34 Firebee drones (first developed in the early 1950s) firing an AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile and an AGM-45 Shrike anti-radar missile. Yeah, we’ve been firing air to ground missiles from drones for 40-years or more.

On Monday we’ll have more on the combat history of drones like the BQM-34, thousands of which saw service during the Cold War.

Click through the jump for the film.

  • Cthel

    Heck, the USA dropped bombs on the Japanese in WW2 using purpose built drones.

    And then promptly forgot all about it, leading to the “revolutionary” idea of putting weapons on drones being invented twice more (firebees and then predators)

    • blight_

      True, but all of these drones are radio controlled at very close ranges. The sat-com UAV is still impressive in its own right.

  • blight_

    Worst case scenario, the parasite drone launched from the SR’s to Lop Nor was intended to self-guide back out over China for retrieval. INS guidance, I think?

    From dreaded Wikipedia: (

    And for the drone launched from the SR’s ( Sadly, I kept thinking it was DF-21…which is actually a Chinese missile.

  • blight_

    As for the Firebee, an interesting, diverse history:

    And I thought the Predator was one heck of a workhorse. The mil really got their moneys worth out of this one…

  • Lance

    These where the way of the future and in none conversational wars in South Asia even these old drones could kick some Islamic but. Same concept new birds now.

  • Praetorian

    The US Navy has also been useing UAV heli’s since the 1962 with the QH-50A
    DASH. In sevice with the Navy from 1962 to 1997. Was able to carry two torpedos or a Mk-57 nuclear depth charge.

  • Richard O’Brien

    North Vietnam had the most heavily defended air space in the world in 1972, which was the prime motivation for developing drones (and heavily defended bridges). During the Christmas Bombing of the Hanoi/Haiphong area, in December 1972, several B-52s were shot down.
    Pentrating Chinese air defense systems today would be virtually impossible but the U.S. continued SR-71 overflights of Red China until 1972. (Mao asked Nixon to stop the recon flights.) By 1986, the U.S. had between 60-80 nuclear weapons of varies sorts targeting Moscow. B-52s were incapable of penetrating Moscow defenses by 1963. The B-2… within just a few years of deployment.

  • benny

    Be nice if I could see the video but the NMCI gods won’t allow it.
    Access to this site has been denied in accordance with Navy Policy to safeguard the security posture and/or maintain the operational integrity of the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) network.

  • P&Wc1Spec

    Both my Dad and my Uncle were pilots in Vietnam, my Dad flew B-52s while my Uncle started out in F105s then moved on to F-4s in 1969. In years past I have heard some crazy stories from them, both are gone now but remembered. They told me several stories about the Firebees and how on more than one occasion they saved their butts while on highly defended mission.

    They told me how the BQM-34 Firebee drones were used heavily as decoys sending out electronic signals that would mimic the B-52s electronic signature and other bomber/attack aircraft while on high value missions around Hanoi and other highly defended targets.

    They also delivered chaff in which several would be launched at the same time to saturate a few square miles of sky to clog up the SAM sites radar. On some of my Dad’s missions they would carry one under each wing, they would launch them well ahead of the flight of bombers to create on the SAMs radar images of two to three times the aircraft that were actually up there.