P r o j e c t   P i g e o n        

A Computer Perspective, By the Office of Charles & Ray Eames. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1973, p131.

Project Pigeon

During [World War II], behavorial psychologist B.F. Skinner demonstrated an automatic homing system which would guide a bomb directly to its target.

Skinner's control system used a lens in the nose of the bomb to throw an image of the approaching target on a ground-glass screen. Inside, a pigeon trained to recognize the desired target packed at it with its beak. If the target's image moved off center, the pigeon's pecking tilted the screen, which moved the bomb's tail surfaces, which corrected the bomb's course. To improve accuracy, Skinner used three pigeons to control the bomb's direction by majority rule. According to him, the system was resistant to jamming, simply built, and needed no materials in short supply.

Despite these advantages, the military review board would not let the idea get off the ground.

[Photograph of a warhead opened up to reveal the mechanized glass plates, with a hand holding a pigeon]
Demonstration model of the three-pigeon guidance system.

[Photograph of a stack of pigeons in (what what look like) tin cans]
Pigeons jacketed for testing.

[four circular frames of an approach to a warship, with a silhouette of a pigeon's head]
Motion picture frames of a pigeon making a simulated bombing approach toward a ship at six hundred miles per hour.

this book, while fascinating, is about as dry as three-day old toast in the sahara; this was most unexpected. to quote the venerable master barry, "i swear i am not making this up."

Thu Feb 21 19:48:26 2002