Collision Students Test Their Skills on Vintage Drone

September 7, 2015

Topeka - It’s not uncommon for students in the Washburn Tech Auto Service Technician program to experience working on a Datsun, Dodge or Daewoo.  But a drone?

For three academic years, working on a Ryan Firebee BQM-3A drone was included in the class schedule, as students worked on the metal fabrication, priming, painting and marking of what came to them as an unrecognizable 1950s era craft. Next month, the drone, which has been returned to its original configuration and paint scheme – orange -- will be mounted for display at the Combat Air Museum at Forbes Field.

Working on the drone was challenging at times, said Eric Showalter, instructor, auto collision. The aluminum on the three sections was severely decayed and they had to adjust to working with rivets not common in automotive repair. “At times, it was a challenge,” he said.
Dick Trupp, a board member at the Museum, said Washburn Tech students were his first choice to work on the artifact he found several years ago near a Veterans of Foreign War building in Blair, Nebraska. He had been pleased with a similar Museum project in the 1990s undertaken by Tech students – the restoration of a WC-9 1943 military ambulance – and knew he could count on the same quality work. Museum volunteers also assisted on several tasks required for the display

“I give Eric total credit for the supervision and skills. I’m sure he has some sweat equity in there, too,” Trupp said.

One of the world’s most popular target drones, the Ryan Firebee BQM-34A was the first in the Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical family of unmanned target drones. First flown in 1951, it has been used by the Air Force, Army and Navy. The primary mission of the Firebee was to simulate tactical threats by enemy aircraft and missiles for defense readiness training, air-to-air combat training and the development and evaluation of weapon systems.

Maximum speed for the Firebee was 700 miles per hour, at levels as low as 10 feet above the sea surface or at an altitude as high as 60,000 feet. 

The Firebee was launched from beneath a specially modified aircraft, from a ship or from a ground launching platform. Surface launching was assisted by a solid-propellant rocket and flight was sustained by a turbojet engine. A parachute was used to recover the craft. Firebee was controlled from either the ground or from a manned aircraft.