The Culver PQ-14 Cadet Target Drone
Forgotten Survivor: The Culver PQ-14 Cadet Target Drone
Unknown to all but the most dedicated of warbird enthusiasts, the Culver PQ-14 is certainly one of the forgotten military aircraft of World War II. Although it never faced the Axis forces in combat, the PQ-14 did play an important role in the victory over those enemy forces. The PQ-14 was a target drone that helped to train U.S. antiaircraft gunners in the fine art of their trade.
When it comes to unmanned aerial vehicles, many think of drones as a 21st-century innovation. Unmanned aircraft, however, actually date back to World War I, when experiments were conducted with unmanned flying bombs and aerial torpedoes. While little actually came of those early experiments, Britain actually began to produce unmanned aerial targets in 1935 by modifying the basic de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane trainer into the DH.82B Queen Bee target drone.
In the United States, the unmanned aerial target drone actually got its serious start when expatriate British movie star Reginald Denny began experimenting with radio-controlled model airplanes. Together with Paul Whittier and with funding from Whitney Collins, Denny (even though making movies) formed the Radioplane Company in Van Nuys, California, in 1939 to develop the RP-3 radio-controlled aerial target, which morphed into the RP-5/0Q-2. WW II saw about 15,000 RP-5s built.
In the meantime, Knight K. Culver and Al Mooney founded the Dart Manufacturing Corporation of Columbus, Ohio, in order to purchase the manufacturing rights to the Mooney-designed Monosport G lightplane from the defunct Lambert Aircraft Cor-
poration; the resulting organization was renamed The Culver Aircraft Company. Produced in December 1939, the Culver Model L, a small, two-seat monoplane of mixed construction, became known as the “Culver LFA Cadet.”
In response to a 1940 U.S. Army Air Corps requirement for a radio-controlled target drone, Culver modified its LFA Cadet, which the Army purchased as the PQ-8. This led to the bigger and faster singleseat XPQ-14, a retractable tricycle-landing-gear design largely made out of wood with stressed plywood skin. Produced as the PQ-14A and B
Cadet for the Army and the TD2C-1 for the Navy (which referred to its aircraft as the “Turkey”), the aircraft featured a rather basic though adequately equipped cockpit for ferrying purposes, but was generally controlled by operators in aircraft, such as the Beechcraft C-45 Expeditor, for target practice missions. Altogether, including prototypes and development aircraft, it appears that about 2,043 (sources vary on the number) PQ-14 Cadets were manufactured during WW II. The primary production model was the PQ-14A, with 1,348 being manufactured for the Army, 1,198 of which were ultimately transferred to the Navy and redesignated TD2C-1 Turkey. The Army also purchased 25 slightly heavier YPQ-14Bs before 594 PQ-14B production models essentially brought the production line to a halt, although one PQ-14B was converted into the O-300-9 engine-powered XPQ-14C.
With most of the production run being blown out of the sky in remote locations during target-practice
missions, it’s not surprising that the PQ-14/TD2C is relatively unknown to the general public. Contributing even more to its rarity, its all-wood construction deteriorated rapidly in outdoor storage. Some PQ-14s, however, did serve with the Air Force until 1950, and as many as 20 or more wound up in civilian hands after somehow surviving military service and the elements. Today, the Federal Aviation Administration still lists six PQ-14/TD2C Cadets, four of which are apparently still flyable, although the sight of them in the air these days is relatively rare.
Generally powered with a 150hp Franklin 6ACT298-35 6-cylinder air-cooled horizontally opposed engine, the PQ-14/TD2C has a top speed of 185mph, cruises at 150mph, can reach a service ceiling of 17,000 feet, and has a range of 512 miles. With a 30-foot wingspan, a length of 19 feet 6 inches, and standing 8 feet 4.5 inches tall, the PQ-14/TD2C has a loaded weight of 1,820 pounds; its empty weight is 1,231 pounds.
The PQ-14/TD2C is actually a relatively speedy airplane for its class, although the controls are reported to be a bit heavy. Visibility from the cockpit is reportedly very good, and the little plane does look rather sporty. According to Robbie Patterson, who has flown the PQ-14B N15HM (AAF #44-21895, Culver serial number 839) currently owned by the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, California, “Flying the PQ-14 was a blast; it’s a little hot rod. It has a hand-cranked retractable landing gear, and because it doesn’t have flaps, it comes in for a landing a lot faster than a T-6.”
In military service, the drones were usually painted bright red, although some were also seen in an overall silver color scheme. In any event, this rare and often overlooked warbird attracts its share of attention on the few occasions when it makes public appearances.
“Flying the PQ-14 was a blast; it’s a little hot rod. It has a hand-cranked retractable landing gear, and because it doesn’t have flaps, it comes in for a landing a lot faster than a T-6.”
PQ-14B N15HM is powered with a 150hp Franklin 0-300-11 air-cooled horizontally opposed engine.
Russ Cronk’s PQ-14A in action during the 2017 Cable Air Show.
The throttle control and elevator-trim control crank are on the left side of the PQ-14’s cockpit.
Slots in the wings of the PQ-14 reduce the aircraft’s stalling speed and enhance low-speed handling qualities.
The cockpit of the Planes of Fame Air Museum’s PQ-14B.