Culver Td2c 1 Drone In Flight C1945
The US Navy received nearly 1,200 Culver PQ-14 Cadets from Army Air Forces stocks, redubbing the aircraft as the TD2C-1 Turkey. This wartime image shows TD2C-1 BuNo.69547 scud-running with a human pilot aboard circa 1945. (U.S. Navy photograph)

Training One's Aim:

While some may have been a little perplexed by our acquisition of a rare Culver PQ-14 Cadet, the aircraft actually fits perfectly within the museum's primary mission to both keep alive the stories of military aviation and to preserve its artifacts. Furthermore, it gives us particular joy when we can share some of the lesser-known aspects of aviation history, which the PQ-14 very much embodies.

The PQ-14 and its slightly older and smaller sibling, the Culver PQ-8 Red Fox, played key roles in preparing the nation's anti-aircraft gunnery crews (on both land and at sea) for the situations they might encounter in combat. These diminutive, radio-controlled aircraft presented realistic, live targets for our trainee gunners to test their skills against. The men got to practice every aspect of how best to track, lead and shoot down incoming enemy aircraft. Short of experiencing actual combat, this opportunity presented them with the most effective way of gaining such vital skills in their efforts to help win World War Two.

It is difficult to find images of PQ-14s in action due to the risks involved in capturing such photographs. However, America's National Archives and Records Administration based in College Park, Maryland does have a series of intriguing images which give some idea of what the training involved, and how a squadron which maintained and operated these aircraft went about its business. With these images, we shall illustrate a little of what was involved, through the lens offered with 17th Tow Target Squadron, based at Wheeler Army Airfield on Oahu, Hawaii. We are also fortunate to have access, via WWII Women, to wartime letters from Betty June Deuser, archived with Texas Woman's University. Betty June was a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilot) who spent several months learning how to fly the PQ-8, both from the cockpit and remotely, and detailed some of these personal experiences in her letters - which are a fascinating cultural time capsule, and well worth reading in their full.

17th TTS PQ-14B in flight over Oahu
A pilot from the 17th Tow Target Squadron flies one of the very first PQ-14Bs constructed, 43-44368, over Oahu on November 29th, 1945. Interestingly, the image was captured from one of the units Douglas RA-24 Banshees, a derivative of the U.S. Navy's SBD Dauntless. Typically, the 17th TTS used its Banshees to tow aerial gunnery targets. (NARA)

The following is a delightful, excerpted letter home by WASP trainee Betty Jane Deuser from October 21, 1943 which describes her experiences during target towing operations for trainee antiaircraft gunners (which the 17th TTS was also involved with on Oahu). She also relates watching trainee artillerymen trying (and failing) to hit a PQ-8 drone. Already a pilot via the Civilian Pilot Training Program before the U.S. entered WWII, Betty Jane was based at Liberty Field in Hinesville, Georgia during her PQ instruction:

Dear Folks -

'Scuse the elegant stationary, will ya? I'm up in a Vega Ventura on a towing mission at 1800 ft. and this is all the paper I happened to have in my pocket. I was sitting in the copilot seat for a while but this particular ship doesn't have dual controls so it's not much fun sitting up there while Lt. Gailey flies it. So I gave the aerial engineer's seat back to him and came back here to the rear of the ship to watch the tow reel man in operation. But he's just reading a ‘Reader's Digest.’

The men on the ground did hit one target so he had to put out another. The procedure takes about 10 minutes. He reels in the cable and fastens a doohickey on the end of it and lets it out again (1800 ft. behind us) then hooks the long white wire mesh flag on and that slides down the cable to the end, where it stops. We can see the tracers sail past behind us, but there's a fairly safe distance between us and the bullets.

Yesterday we were down on "C" range (over which we're flying now) and watched the PQ remote control mission. The C-78 is the mother ship and the "beeper" flies the PQ from there. The 90 mm's almost got the PQ but didn't come close enough.

I'm sitting by an open window, perched on a target rolled up on the floor. The window is a little bigger than a porthole (same shape). Don't know how it got eliminated, but it makes it a little breezy here. The aerial engineer on this ship does more work than the pilot. On takeoff and landing, he works all the engine controls and the pilot just flies the ship...

...Had two hours in the AT-7 as copilot this afternoon. Sure was fun. Lt. Mills cut one engine on me (at 10,000 ft.) but there's nothing to it - flies almost as well with one engine.

Got a letter from Fred today. He's home on furlough and finally told his folks we're engaged. Said they were surprised! Probably Mrs. Peel told them long ago.


Ra 24 Banshee Tow Target
WASP aircrew aboard a Douglas RA-24 Banshee reeling in a well-shredded anti-aircraft gun target sleeve following a training mission during WWII. Most WWII-era Tow Target Squadrons, including the 17th TTS on Oahu, had a few RA-24s on hand for target towing or observation duties. (US Army Air Forces image)

The 17th Tow Target Squadron in WWII:

Based at Wheeler Army Airfield on Oahu, Hawaii, the 17th Tow Target Squadron's primary responsibility involved, as their name suggests, towing targets for aerial gunners to test their shooting skills against. The squadron had a number of aircraft types to satisfy these requirements, varying from AT-6 Texans, AT-23 Marauders (basically a B-26B bomber stripped of its armament and equipped with a target towing reel), Douglas B-18 Bolos and, Douglas RA-24B Banshees (a variant of the Douglas SBD Dauntless).

The unit's other responsibility involved training antiaircraft gunners on the ground, and for this they were also equipped with radio-controlled PQ-8 Red Foxes and later, with PQ-14 Cadets, along with specially modified Cessna UC-78 Bobcats which served as motherships to guide the PQ aircraft on their missions.

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An aerial view of Flight R area belonging to the 17th Tow Target Squadron at Wheeler Army Airfield circa 1944. (NARA)
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Some of the PQ-8s had interesting nose art, such as this example nicknamed "The Joker". Here we can see Cpl E.B.Jordan adjusting the aircraft's servo motors, using a so-called "Metal Stick" controller to perform the tests. Typically, the controller was only installed in the aircraft as an override unit when a human safety pilot was aboard during drone pilot training operations. An almost identical "metal stick" console was available to the drone pilots who flew these aircraft remotely, either from the ground or aboard a mothership like the UC-78 seen in the background. (NARA)

How the System Worked:

The PQ-8 and PQ-14 were flown remotely using the same principles which present day RC hobbyists fly their model aircraft. Each of the drone's control surfaces (rudder, elevator, ailerons and trim tabs) was connected to its own servo motor, which input precise position adjustments responding to commands it received from the remote pilot (via the aircraft's radio control receiver). Similar servo motors were connected to the engine's throttle, mixture and carburetor heat levers. The PQ-14 also had a relay for operating the retractable undercarriage as well, a feature which the fixed-gear PQ-8 obviously didn't need. Neither aircraft type had flaps, to reduce their complexity and weight, although it did mean that landing speeds were comparatively high (90mph for PQ-14) relative to other aircraft of their size.

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Aircraft Mechnics S/Sgt R.A. Schoomer and S/Sgt J.A. Holmes working on servo motor units for the PQ-8A Red Fox drones, two of which appear in the background. The men were part of the 17th TTS based at Wheeler Field on Oahu, Hawaii. (NARA)

Beeper Pilots:

During a typical drone mission, a pilot on the ground would perform the takeoff, sitting atop a chair with a "Metal Stick" controller in front of them to remotely operate the PQ's controls. Once the PQ was in the air, a separate remote operator, flying nearby in a mothership with their own "Metal Stick" controller, would assume command of the aircraft and take it through its mission and, should it survive, back to base for a landing. Amusingly, these remote operators were often referred to colloquially as "Beeper Pilots," or simply "Beepers," due to the regular beeping sounds which the consoles made to confirm that the system was in proper communication with the PQ drone.

"Beeper Pilots" needed significant training before they could fly missions, of course. To gain a feel for the aircraft they would eventually guide remotely, "Beeper Pilots" first had to learn to fly from the PQ's cockpit itself. Betty June Deuser remarked on this experience in a September 8, 1943 letter to her parents, noting:

"This morning I checked out in a PQ8. I dunno whether you can find much about that in magazines. It’s like a Culver Cadet with a nose wheel. More fun to fly! And so easy. It just flips around like a toy. It’s a radio control ship – the setup is very hush-hush so I can’t tell you about it. Besides, I don’t know much about it myself..." 

But trainee "Beepers" eventually had to fly a real PQ remotely from the air. This did of course require a safety pilot aboard the PQ, just in case things went awry - as was bound to happen. Betty Jane Deuser described this process marvelously in an October 19, 1943 letter home to her parents from her base at Liberty Field (now Wright Army Airfield) in Hinesville, Georgia:

"The radio control operations is secret, but seeing as how they publicize the torpedo angle, it's OK to say a little about it I guess. There's a unit in the PQ which works by radio signals. We're practicing flying the PQ with this unit now, and will go on to flying the PQ from the C-78, using the same method. To begin with, the PQ has a safety pilot in it; in case the "beeper" gets the ship doing maneuvers that aren't cricket. Then the safety pilot takes over and flies the PQ. But that's just for practice. When we get good enuf at landing the PQ without busting it up, then we can do PQ missions - flying the PQ from the C-78 up over the anti aircraft artillery range, where they try to shoot it down. It's better practice for the AA to use real planes instead of just target sleeves...

The AA is firing tonite so it'll be tough trying to sleep, tho I'm really tired..."

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T/Sgt L.D. Arris flying a 17th TTS PQ-8 Red Fox remotely from atop the radio truck. Formally known as "Metal Stick Operators", these pilots were colloquially referred to as "Beeper Pilots" due to the sounds and flashing lights emanating from their control consoles. Typically, the ground-bound Beeper Pilots were only involved in the PQ's takeoff sequence, another Beeper Pilot aboard a mothership would then take over the drone's flying controls. Note: Three PQ-8s are visible in the background at the top of the image. (NARA)

From Trainee Beeper to first "Nullo":

A "Beeper's" ultimate goal involved learning how to land the PQ remotely from the air without a safety pilot aboard the drone, a feat referred to colloquially in some quarters by the term "nullo." With a nullo under their belt, and a little more practice, trainee Beepers would soon become qualified to fly actual gunnery missions with the PQ. Anticipation of attaining this goal was sometimes fraught, as Betty Jean noted in a November 20, 1943 letter home:

This weather is sure keeping us from getting out of here. After sitting for a few days I'm afraid I'll get stale on this beeping business. Lt. Henderson passed me on one check ride, and I might have to "nullo" soon (that will be flying the PQ with no safety pilot to depend on to get it out of tight spots). Sure hope I can get home soon..."

Despite the tentative tone of her earlier letter, Betty June soon had her chance to "nullo" although it did not go as smoothly as she had hoped, as related in this December 1, 1943 letter home:

"Well, I nulloed today - and cracked up the PQ. Was so thrilled at being chosen as first to nullo. They figured that they'd nullo the best first so there'd be less chance of wrecking many PQ's. Well, the mechanics and my C-78 pilot (Sgt. Hawkes) had bets laid on it. Most of them betting that I'd bring it back OK. Well, I had butterflies in my stomach when the pilot got out of the PQ at the end of the runway, so I could beep it nullo...

Made a very good pattern and everyone was impressed by the good approach I made. Well, I got it one foot off the runway and cut the throttle. The nose wheel struck first, before I could get it nose high. The nose wheel is delicate, it gave way and the ends of the prop struck the runway. It swerved off the runway and upon hitting the dirt, nosed up and broke the prop (I've got that as a souvenir). I sure felt sick about it.

I was in the C-78 with Hawkes and had to circle once before landing. Felt like crying. The engine mount is cracked and has to be replaced. But the mechanics were pretty cheerful about it. They all seemed to think that with such a perfect approach, it was just an error at one second of landing that did it. Well, that's not the way I figured it. I cracked it up and that's that. It can be fixed easily tho.

Anyway, Lt. Henderson was going to have me nullo another one right away. I took it up with Hollingsworth in it but it didn't work as well, so I didn't nullo again. May have to tomorrow. Gee, I hope I do better tomorrow. I'd feel terrible if I cracked up another one. Well, this is a milestone, so you'll just have to excuse this chattering.


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A 17th TTS PQ-8 Red Fox under remote guidance from a 'Beeper Pilot' aboard the UC-78 to its rear. If you look carefully in the PQ-8's cockpit, you will see a safety pilot peering back towards you, so this image (taken on April 15th, 1944 near Wheeler Field which is visible in the distance) was likely captured during a "Beeper Pilot" training flight. (NARA)

PQ Safety Pilot Terrors:

Those qualified to fly a PQ from its cockpit often had to take their turn serving as a safety pilot while other trainee Beepers tested their mettle from the mothership. Betty June described the sometimes precarious moments a PQ safety pilot could experience in a December 12, 1943 letter home:

"So now Chapman is the only girl left to nullo... I rode safety pilot for her yesterday and really had plenty of scares in half an hour. She was so erratic, and over-controlled so much. But she has done better before. Hope she nullos OK tomorrow..."

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A 'Beeper Pilot' aboard the UC-78 guiding the PQ-8A ahead of it into a safe landing at Wheeler Field, Oahu on April 15th, 1944. (NARA)

Gunnery Missions:

The primary purpose for the PQs, of course, was to serve as live-fire gunnery targets for trainee antiaircraft artillery crews. On these missions, a Beeper pilot on a mother ship, often a modified Cessna UC-78 Bobcat or, later, a Beech UC-45F (CQ-3), would guide the PQ in over the gunnery range. The mothership could control the PQ from up to five miles away, which made it possible to remain clear of the shelling (although not always). Depending upon artillery accuracy, the PQ might make several passes over the target area, and with several different profiles (and altitudes) depending upon the kind of weaponry involved, which ranged from .50" calibre machine guns through to the powerful 90mm M1 cannon.

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Men of the 53rd Brigade, 'A' Battery, 751st Gun Battalion their 90mm M1 cannon at a 17th TTS PQ-8 Red Fox during their trainingat a dummy airfield on Oahu between Haleiwa and Kukoki on March 22nd, 1944. (NARA)

PQ Resiliance:

Even when damaged by shrapnel, the rugged little PQs could often continue flying and make it back to base for a successful, remote-control landing, as Betty June related:

"...Another PQ was shot last week, but they got it back to the field and it landed just as the prop stopped from lack of fuel." [Nov.18, 1943]

"...One new one came back, the radio control still perfect but the wings well ventilated. Found a couple of pieces of the shrapnel in the ship..." [Nov.26, 1943]

Tow Target Squadron maintenance personnel were often able to return damaged PQs to operational condition, with some examples surviving numerous missions.

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This particular 17th TTS PQ-8 Red Fox has survived eight separate missions, with three of them resulting in hits to the airframe, as the mission markings behind its cockpit confirm. This particular image from April 1945 shows T/Sgt Cletus Johnson (left) discussing the record with pilot, Capt James V. Smith. (NARA)

A Risky Business:

The practice of using unmanned drones for live-fire training, while incredibly important to the war effort, did not always go smoothly. Unintended and sometimes dangerous consequences for those on the ground could result from a PQ shoot-down, as Betty June recalled in this excerpt from her November 9, 1943 letter:

"The last two that were hit, didn't fall. If they're not hit, they're brought back and used again. Well, these two that were hit; one I told you about. It was hit by shrapnel or something and they tried to bring it [back] but the elevator control must've been damaged and they got it back to the field, but it cracked up. The other one got out of control, having been hit, and spun in near the field, starting a fire that's lasted for about 10 days. We've had fires all thru the swamps around here, making the visibility awful. This rain ought to fix that..." [Nov.9, 1943]

A mothership could also lose control of its PQ if the latter received shrapnel damage to its communications package, which could precipitate precarious situations, like the two Betty June noted here:

"Today the radio control mission (at 8,000 ft) had a sad ending. The PQ-8 got shot and the radio went out of control (nobody in the PQ - it's a target) so the C-78 couldn't make it come down. It went scooting off towards Savannah all by itself and the C-78 chased it. There was nothing it could do to control it - the thing was set so it would fly straight or turn and it stayed up for 4 hrs. before the gas ran out and it crashed near Chatham Field just outside of Savannah. That has happened before - when the PQ's get away - and even in one case a farmer saw one crash and a searching party was formed to hunt for the pilot who was never found, of course because there wasn't any!" [Oct.26, 1943]

It wasn't always damage to the PQ which resulted in loss of communications with the mothership, either, as Betty June explained from her own harrowing experiences:

"Yesterday I missed dinner because I flew the PQ mission late. None of the girls have flown the C-78 on a mission here yet. Shirley was going to fly it while Lt. Potts beeped but she had planned to go to Charleston at 4 pm so he asked me to fly for him. Was interesting. Cold at 9000 ft. tho. When it was almost time to come down, the generators fuses on the C-78 burned out and that takes the PQ control off so the PQ went flying along straight and I chased it for about 10 miles while we changed fuses. The fuses should've been 40's but we only had 50's so I had to keep turning the generator switches off so the fuses wouldn't blow again. Turned them on long enuf to turn the PQ and then off again and on again for each beep. Got it back at sunset and Potts made a nice landing. Lynn had nulloed that PQ earlier in the afternoon - an awful landing but it was all in one piece..." [Dec.12, 1943]

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A 17th Tow Target Squadron PQ-14 in flight beside a locally-based TB-24D Liberator on April 29, 1945. A secind Pq-14 is just visible at the far right of the image. While it is uncertain, it is possible that the Liberator was functioning as a mothership on this flight. Both Cadets certainly have safety pilots aboard them.

PQ-14s on Oahu:

Culver produced just 200 PQ-8 Red Foxes, a modified variant of the company's civilian LCA Cadet tourer, before revising the design significantly into the PQ-14 Cadet. Culver produced more than 2,000 of the latter for the U.S. Army, which transferred roughly 1,200 examples to the U.S. Navy as the TD2C-1 Turkey.

With retractable landing gear and light construction, the PQ-14 was fast for its size and fully aerobatic, which reportedly made it a lot of fun to fly, albeit a little heavy on the controls. Without flaps, the aircraft also landed pretty hot!

Operating from Wheeler Army Airfield on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, the 17th Tow Target Squadron received a complement of Cadets to supplement their fleet of PQ-8s; they performed roughly the same function as their older siblings.

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Another shot of the PQ-14s flying past Oahu's coast on April 29, 1945. Although this closeup doesn't reveal it, this image was captured from the rear compartment of a 17th TTS RA-24 Banshee. All of the aircraft were based at Wheeler Army Airfield just a short distance from this location. (NARA)
A Wartime Image Of A Culver Pq 14 Cadet's Cockpit. (image Source Unknown)
A wartime image of a Culver PQ-14 Cadet's cockpit. (image source unknown)

Navy TD2C-1s:

As noted earlier, the U.S. Navy acquired roughly 1,200 examples of the PQ-14 Cadet, re-dubbed as the TD2C-1 Turkey. They used them to train ship-board gunners in the art of aerial gunnery. In 1945, the Navy even tried converting the Turkey for carrier use. The accompanying color film reel shows some of the landing trials underway, which ultimately resulted in the destruction of the airframe, despite it successfully engaging its tail hook. If you follow actions in the background closely, you will see the mothership flying past each time. The Beeper Pilot aboard must have had enormous skill to put the aircraft down on a moving target.

Tdc 1s, Bunos 76106, 76110, 76105
Three U.S. Navy TD2C-1 Turkeys in close formation with human pilots aboard. (U.S. Navy image)

Postwar PQ-14s:

The PQ-14 proved to be a highly successful tool for training antiaircraft gunners, and continued in service with the U.S. Air Force following its 1947 transition into an independent air arm. The type finally entered retirement in 1950, with a number of the surviving airframes making it onto the civilian market, where they proved popular amongst pilots. Given the aircraft's construction, however, they did not last well when exposed to the elements for long.

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Numerous PQ-14 Cadets undergoing maintenance and inspection checks at Tinker Field in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. These checks were routinely conducted during delivery and acceptance review by the military. Given the bar in the national insignia seen on their fuselages, the image must have been captured no earlier than January 14, 1947. (Photo courtesy of the Tinker History Office)

The Museum's PQ-14:

Barely more than a handful of PQ-14s are known to exist today, with even fewer of their naval brethren extant. This is why the Museum was so fortunate to acquire its own example in 2023. Our PQ-14 was built in Wichita, Kansas for the U.S. Army Air Forces as s/n 44-68349; the USAAF taking delivery on March 16, 1945. With gunnery training winding down at that time, the Army transferred the aircraft directly into storage at Jackson Army Airfield in Missouri. It was later stored at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico until it was sold off in November 1948.

While incomplete, most of the key elements came with the airframe and its restoration should not be too technically difficult. There are currently no firm plans regarding when that rebuild effort might occur, nor whether it will be to airworthy condition, but we are excited to present this fascinating airframe to the public when it is finally ready to display. It has an important story to tell!

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The fuselage from the Museum's Culver PQ-14 Cadet (44-68349) sitting in storage awaiting its transfer to a restoration shop. The aircraft's 6-cylinder opposed Franklin 6ACT-298-35 engine, with a sawn-off propeller, is seen on a pallet nearby. The airframe's molded plywood skin construction is quite evident in this image. (image by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
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Two sets of wings accompanied the Museum's Culver PQ-14 Cadet (44-68349) following its acquisition in 2023. They are seen here in their characteristic scarlet livery, sitting in storage awaiting transfer to the restoration shop. (image by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
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Two sets of wings accompanied the Museum's Culver PQ-14 Cadet (44-68349) following its acquisition in 2023. This is a view from the other side shown in the previous image. (image by Richard Mallory Allnutt)