World’s first reconnaissance drone, the Radioplane RP-71 Falconer from Northrop

Back in the thirties, Radioplane developed a number of model airplanes that were radio-controlled and served as aerial targets for antiaircraft gunnery training by the U.S. Army Air Corps, writes Peter Suciu. Later on, they would form the basis for the first reconnaissance drones.

The Radioplane RP-71 Falconer from Northrop was the first reconnaissance drone

The U.S. Army designated these small aircraft, which featured metal fuselage, and wooden wings, OQ-19A through OQ-19D.

After the second world war when the technology was vastly improved, Radioplane was bought by Northrup Aircraft and became known as its Ventura division.

Over the years some 60,000 target drones were built and used by at least 18 different . The MQM-36 ‘Shelduck' was one of the most successful targets with a wingspan of around 11 feet and a total length of more than 12 feet.

World'S First Reconnaissance Drone, The Radioplane Rp-71 Falconer From Northrop 1

The Radioplane RP-71 Falconers became the Army's first reconnaissance drone after people realized that these unmanned aircraft could be used in more purposeful ways. This particular model had a radio-controlled backup and an early autopilot system. It also had photo and video cameras and used flares to illuminate its surroundings during night missions.

“This UAV was launched from a lightweight stand with the aid of two takeoff rockets, while a remote ground operator flew the Falconer via radio signals while it was tracked by radar. While it could provide an overhead surveillance in a way that was previously unavailable, this early UAV only had a flight endurance time of a little more than a half an hour, which limited its use,” says Peter. “At the end of the mission the MQM-57 floated to the ground underneath a parachute that was deployed from the top of fuselage.”

In the end, a total of 1,455 Falconers were built by Northrup, serving both the U.S. Army and NATO into the 1970s.

World'S First Reconnaissance Drone, The Radioplane Rp-71 Falconer From Northrop


Droneu Marketing Banner Ad 1

Stay in touch!

If you'd like to stay up to date with all the latest drone , scoops, rumors, and reviews, then follow us on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram or…

Subscribe to our Daily Drone News email.*


Submit tips If you have information or tips that you would like to share with us, feel free to submit them hereSupport You can support by using these links when you make your next drone purchase: Adorama, Amazon, B&H, BestBuy, eBay, DJI, Parrot, and Yuneec. We make a small commission when you do so at no additional expense to you. Thank you for helping DroneXL grow! FTC: uses affiliate links that generate income.

* We do not sell, share, rent out or spam your email, ever. Our email goes out on weekdays around 5:30 p.m.

Photo: Wikimedia

Discover more from DroneXL

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Get your Part 107 Certificate

Pass the test and take to the skies with the Pilot Institute. We have helped thousands of people become airplane and commercial drone pilots. Our courses are designed by industry experts to help you pass FAA tests and achieve your dreams.

pilot institute dronexl

Copyright © 2024. All rights reserved. The content, images, and intellectual property on this website are protected by copyright law. Reproduction or distribution of any material without prior written permission from is strictly prohibited. For permissions and inquiries, please contact us first.

FTC: is an Amazon Associate and uses affiliate links that can generate income from qualifying purchases. We do not sell, share, rent out, or spam your email.

Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ or @hayekesteloo.

Articles: 3456

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.