Bats would not be the only winged creature utilized by the US military in World War II, pigeons would also be used to test their viability when it came to blowing things up. Enter noted psychologist, behaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher B.F. Skinner and his Project Pigeon.
Before the development of the missile-guidance systems in 1953, Skinner suggested that pigeons could essentially be trained as little pilots. The National Defense Research Committee saw the idea to use pigeons in glide bombs as very eccentric and impractical, but still contributed $25,000 to the research.
The idea was to design a small glider, with wings and tail surfaces, an explosive warhead section in the center, and a “guidance section” in the nose cone where the pigeon pilot would be housed. The missile had an array of lenses at the front that projected an image of the target to an interior screen.
The pigeons would be conditioned to peck at the target on the screen, their pecks would correct the missile’s flight path while releasing food as a reward. Although the project was ultimately canceled because of the impracticality of the weapons, the idea of pigeon-guided missiles showed promise.
So much so that the US Navy would revive the project in 1948, but it would be abandoned for a second time. Skinner would complain that “our problem was no one would take us seriously.” It seemed that few people would trust pigeons to guide a missile, no matter how reliable the system appeared to be.