NOVA/PBS NOVAPBS
Ryan SPA 147 (USA)
In 1970, an RC-121 communications intelligence (COMMINT) monitoring aircraft was shot down over the Yellow Sea, killing the crew on board and spurring the U.S. military to develop new UAVs fitted for COMMINT acquisition and able to fly at high altitude, above the range of enemy missiles. Ryan Aeronautical set to work modifying Firebee target drones so that they could eavesdrop on enemy radio messages and take photographs from above 60,000 feet. The resulting Ryan Special Purpose Aircraft (SPA) 147, which could fly for eight hours straight carrying a 300-pound camera and was the first long-haul UAV equipped for COMMINT at high altitude.

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