first published on March 5, 2017 by Josh
In the early 1940’s B.F. Skinner came up with an insane plan to use pigeons as a precision guided missile system. The concept was initially funded by a skeptical National Defense Research Committee with $25,000.
Pigeons would be trained to pilot a missile using a touch sensitive screen. Using a basic skinner box, the animals were taught to peck at the image of German and Japanese naval vessels in order to receive their explosive reward. These pecks translated into commands for the missile, guiding it along its path to the final destination of an enemy naval vessel.
The weapon system, codename Pelican, would be piloted by three pigeons to account for any pilot error. All three pigeons would ride in the nose of weapon in separate compartment. One of the nose cones for this system is actually on display in the National Museum of American History.
Pigeons that were selected for the program were trained under arduous conditions that accurately simulated the missile’s flight. Sounds of war, adjustments in altitude and gravity, and turbulence were all added into the training regiment of the would-be-kamikaze birds in order to ensure they would not falter under stress. Most passed with flying colors.
In the end however, the entire program was scrapped before completion. Limitations and flaws in the system that could not be fixed at the time were the beginning of the end for Project Organic Control. Lack of range, and the inability of the animals to pilot the system at night were the primary reasons for the programs abandonment.
However, the pigeons did yield great results. They were easily obtained, and trained to carry out the task they were given. Unfortunately they were never tasked to carry out their missions, but the glass used in the screens that controlled the device went on later to be used in many modern day radar technologies.
You can see more about Project Organic Control in the video below, and at this link.