Experimental Airpower and Pilotless Aircraft in the Interwar Period

Authors: Katharine Hall*, Queen Mary University of London
Topics: Political Geography, Historical Geography, Military Geography
Keywords: war, air power, drones, interwar, historical geography, science and technology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Embassy Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the early 1920s, the British Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) began work on a weaponized pilotless aircraft called the Larynx. By the end of the decade, the Larynx project had produced a series of prototypes. These were put through a number of operational tests flights, including a set of flights in coordination with the RAF using live ammunition in Iraq in 1929. This paper examines these tests and the debates between the RAE and the Air Ministry over the value of pilotless aircraft to newly emerging geographies of air power. In doing so, I argue that the case of the Larynx illustrates important intersections of scientific experimentation and colonial violence that influenced how the aircraft was envisioned and deployed, and points us toward the longer modern histories of scientific development and Western violence that contemporary practices of targeting killing emerge from. I focus this examination on the role of the ‘experiment’ and the ‘experimental’ in the development of the Larynx and how these concepts fit within a broader understanding of aerial bombing at the time, as a kind of experimental violence. This case demonstrates the importance studying air power in the interwar period, not just for understanding the roots of contemporary air power in colonial air policing (Neocleous, 2014), but also for the role that scientific experimentation and development played in shaping these practices and imaginaries of Western air power.

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