The Cul­ver PQ-14 Cadet Tar­get Drone

Flight Journal - - CONTENTS - by Frank B. Mormillo

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.

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