In the mid-1950s modern helicopter development was in its early years, and was full of innovative design ideas. The technology, less than two decades old, was in the capable hands of eminent engineers such as Igor Sikorsky, Frank Piasecki, and Stanley Hiller Jr., and the ideas for the future seemed unlimited. From this era of aviation innovation came the U.S. Navy’s first mass-produced unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the QH-50 Drone Antisubmarine Helicopter, or DASH.
The story of DASH begins with the Marine Corps. Its development of helicopter operational concepts in the early 1950s showed that it needed helicopters with larger carrying capacity and range to accomplish its vision of vertical envelopment and heliborne amphibious assault. But the Marines wondered if they could go smaller. They began investigating the idea of the “rotorcycle,” or a one-manned helicopter that could be flown on reconnaissance missions or special operations. They turned to the Gyrodyne Company of America, which developed the XRON-1 prototype using a coaxial rotor design, a two-cycle engine, and an open-air seating arrangement that lived up to the rotorcycle name.