Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Relic of Crashed Navy F6F-5K Hellcat Drone

The Battle of Palmdale

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Click image to enlarge | Download archival scan

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A Navy F6F-5K drone, August 1, 1956. Not necessarily the one that crashed two weeks later. Navy photo. Click to enlarge.

Piece of the Navy's red F6F-5K Hellcat drone that went berserk over the Santa Clarita Valley on August 16, 1956, precipitating the "Battle of Palmdale." Metal and red paint, 4½ x 2¼ inches.

Attempting to shoot down the unmanned aicraft, Air Force pilots fired no fewer than 208 rockets at it. They missed the drone but did manage to set off brush fires in Placerita Canyon and elsewhere. The drone finally crashed without anyone's help in a field between 110th and 120th Streets East near Avenue P, east of Palmdale.

The seller* of this artifact writes:

This is an authentic piece of a Grumman F6F-5K Hellcat aircraft that was part of the famous Battle of Palmdale. I bought it in a larger collection [of relics from this aircraft].

This F6F was converted into a drone and launched from Southern California on its last mission in which it was supposed to go into a missile test area over the Pacific Ocean. After a short time, it became unresponsive. It started a gentle left-hand curve toward Los Angeles. The Navy didn't have anything in the area to destroy the drone, so the Air Force sent two F-89D Scorpions. They caught it at 30,000 feet and let it fly over part of Los Angeles. Once over an unpopulated area, they fired their rockets. They had a combined 208 rockets, each capable of downing an aircraft. They ended up firing all 208 with some even glancing off the Hellcat, but none took it down. As the F-89s ran low on fuel, so did the Hellcat, which eventually crashed in the desert, which is where this piece came from.

Remember those 208 rockets? They set fires that burned over 1,000 acres; some went into Newhall, and some fires got within 300 feet of the Bermite Powder explosives plant. Others went into Palmdale and damaged homes and cars. Fortunately, there were no fatalities.

(Webmaster's note: Sparsely populated, perhaps, but not "unpopulated.")

Further reading:

The Terrifying Tale of the Runaway Drone by Michael Frost, Pageant magazine (1957).

The Battle of Palmdale by Darryl Manzer (2014).

The Battle of Palmdale by Dr. Alan Pollack (2015).


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Inside (back) of relic. Click image to enlarge. | Download archival scan


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Prior owner's collection of relics from the Battle of Palmdale. Click image to enlarge.


LW3766: 9600 dpi jpegs of relic purchased 2020 by Leon Worden *from Katie Bollinger of Lebanon, Penn. Address and additional details on file.
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