On the morning of the 15th of August 1956, an unmanned (converted) F6F target drone was launched from NAS Point Mugu Airbase. It was meant to be guided over the Pacific Ocean and subsequently shot down. However, shortly after take-off, ground control lost control of the drone. Said drone, now runaway, gently turned inland… towards Los Angeles! The Battle of Palmdale was just starting.
The Navy called the Air Force for help.
Air Force’s Response
Air Force responded by scrambling two F-89D Scorpion interceptors! Each of the F-89D Scorpion was equipped with 104 X 2.75 inch Mighty Mouse rockets. The planes were once upon a time equipped with a gun sight for firing rockets manually. But those sights had been removed when a Hughes E-6 fire-control system, a radar and an attack plotting computer were installed. The F-89D was technologically advanced indeed!
However, when the pilots tried to engage the drone, the Fire Control System failed, leaving the pilots no choice but to try and engage the F6F manually, with unguided rockets… Without sights… The rockets could be fired all at once (104 rockets) or in various ripple mode with the initial one being 30 rockets at once… The pilots selected the intermediate 42 rockets ripple mode.
The two interceptor pilots, commanding the F-89D Scorpion took a turn over and over again, trying to hit the flying drone with unguided rockets, without sights… The end result was predictable: The drone kept on flying unmolested while rockets rained down on the ground! Some rockets started a brush fire, others landed near an oil facility (where they started an oil fire) and the rockets from the last salvo hit houses within the town of Palmdale itself!
The two F-89D were now out of rockets and low on fuel. They, therefore, headed back to base. The F6F also ran out of fuel and slowly glided down to earth, impacting a portion of desert 8 miles from Palmdale.
There were no casualties from the Battle of Palmdale, however, it took 500 firefighters 2 days to bring all the fires under control and 1000 acres of land went up in smoke.