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Friday, October 14, 2011

Pigeon-Guided Rocket

Human ingenuity never fails to astound me. During World War II, the US needed to figure out how to guide a missile effectively but the available machinery wasn’t small enough to do the job. The solution? According to B.F. Skinner it was to place 3 pigeons in the nose cone to guide the missile in flight and they gave him $25k to try it out.

He built a nose cone for a missile fitted with three small electronic screens and three tiny pigeon cockpits. Onto the screens was projected an image of the ground in front of the rocket.

“He would train street pigeons to recognize the pattern of the target, and to peck when they saw this target,” says Kidwell. “And then when all three of them pecked, it was thought you could actually aim the missile in that direction.” As the pigeons pecked, cables harnessed to each one’s head would mechanically steer the missile until it finally reached its mark.

The most astounding thing about the project is that it actually worked! But even after a successful demonstration, officials declines to go Skinner’s way.

(for more avian carrier fun check out RFC 1149 – “Standard for the Transmission of IP datagrams on Avian Carriers” or “How to run the internet on carrier pigeons”)

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