Pigeon Holes

Pigeon PilotLike many people with a recognizable surname, I sometimes get questions from people regarding a non-relative – in my case, B.F. Skinner.

While I do find his work in behavioral conditioning interesting, I’ve always loved another of his inventions, and wish it was the one that had made his (our) name famous.

From the wikipedia:

[During WWII] [t]he US Navy required a weapon effective against the German Bismarck class battleships. Although missile and TV technology existed, the size of the primitive guidance systems available rendered any weapon ineffective.

What does a psychologist best known for working with animals have to do with missiles?

The project centered on dividing the nose cone of a missile into three compartments, and encasing a pigeon in each. Each compartment used a lens to project an image of what was in front of the missile onto a screen. The pigeons would peck toward the object, thereby directing the missile.

Pigeon Missile PrototypeThat’s right, the war could have been won with kamikaze pigeon pilots, if anyone had been able to take the idea seriously. Despite some apparent success in training and testing, the project was canned – but that wasn’t the only animal-weapon the military was dealing with at the time.

Again from the wikipedia:

Bat bombs were bomb-shaped casings with numerous compartments, each containing a Mexican Free-tailed Bat with a small timed incendiary bomb attached. Dropped from a bomber at dawn, the casings would deploy a parachute in mid-flight and open to release the bats which would then roost in eaves and attics. The incendiaries would start fires in inaccessible places in the largely wood and paper construction of the Japanese cities that were the weapon’s intended target.

After some testing, including an accident in which the Auxiliary Army Air Base in Carlsbad, New Mexico, was set on fire, the batbomb was also shelved – in favour of the “simpler” solution of dropping atomic weaponry.Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!