The Safety Pilot by Norman Tengstrom STAG-1 Veteran
I had recently graduated from USNAS; Corpus Christi, Texas as a Naval Aviator, completed my advanced training in Torpedo Bombers and had qualified as a carrier pilot. It was on August 3,1943 my most memorable experience took place. My first duty assignment was to Special Task Air Group One, a top-secret organization whose WW2 operations were refined and over the years developed into the Cruise Missile.
On that summer day in Clinton, Oklahoma, I sat alone in the cockpit of a sleek, twin-engine, low wing bomber, quite different from other Naval Aircraft. Designated the TDR-1 and built by Wurlitzer, its skin was formed of laminated plywood, the inline engines along with the engine instruments were housed in nacelles on each wing. The cockpit was fitted with only the most basic instruments, rudder pedals, and a stick and, most important of all, a safety release lever.
This was my first flight as the “Safety Pilot” in a radio controlled, radar guided and television aimed Assault Drone. The guided missile sat on the runway while I sat in the cockpit with one hand on the safety release lever and the other in my lap. Control pilots, on the ground and in the air performed all of the pilot’s usual functions. My only responsibility was to pull the safety lever and take over the controls if there was an equipment malfunction.
Subsequently, our Air Group made 46 attacks on designated, defended enemy targets in the area around New Britain and New Ireland in the South Pacific. Tokyo Rose referred to us as American Kamikazes, she never did know those planes had no pilots!