Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a Drone!

So were you as amazed or mystified (or vaguely uneasy) as I was when Amazon announced their development plans for Prime Air, an airborne drone delivery system? Whether you think it is feasible or not you have to admit the concept really smacks of 1950s science fiction from the hands of such masters as Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, or Robert Heinlein. Yet the video of a prototype shown on “60 Minutes” was cool in a very real way.

In any event, the topic has certainly resonated here at CHS, as my colleague Jenny Steadman recently posted a blog, G. Fox Was Way Ahead of Amazon, while I was writing this post! So I thought, why not continue the conversation a bit longer?

A “swarm” of G. Fox & Co. helicopters lands in Bushnell Park, Hartford. CHS 2002.45.14

A “swarm” of G. Fox & Co. helicopters lands in Bushnell Park, Hartford. CHS 2002.45.14

Precise vertical airborne delivery is nothing new; the military began to use helicopters for this in the waning days of WWII, carrying personnel or small high-value cargo to front lines or vessels at sea. With peacetime, and the introduction of civilian helicopters, this capability was explored by various parties, including the U. S. Post Office Department, civilian airlines like Los Angeles Airways and Pan Am, and yes—as Jenny noted—even G. Fox & Co. The G. Fox application was a special feature promoting the store’s 1947 centennial celebration; but it suggested the potential of rapid home delivery characteristic of UPS and FedEx today.

With the state capitol building as a backdrop, G. Fox & Co.’s helo fleet creates a landing zone in the park.

With the state capitol building as a backdrop, G. Fox & Co.’s helo fleet creates a landing zone in the park.

Home delivery of packages by air, 66 years before Amazon.

Home delivery of packages by air, 66 years before Amazon.

The G. Fox fleet of three Sikorsky S-51 helicopters crisscrossed the state delivering light packages, much as the Primary Air drones would, should Amazon’s plan ever become reality. But obviously there would be limitations to such flying deliveries, as there were in 1947. No refrigerators or other large appliances, for example, could fit in the relatively small S-51. But plenty of small, lightweight packages as envisioned by Amazon could have made the trip back in 1947.

The S-51s used by G. Fox were restricted to carrying small, lightweight packages.

The S-51s used by G. Fox were restricted to carrying small, lightweight packages.

But the thought of small unmanned aircraft, flying out of Amazon’s planned Windsor fulfillment center like so many bees from a hive, still gives me pause. Even with GPS, how do you select a safe landing zone in some suburban yard? Trees, a prized flower bed, plus the usual power, phone and cable lines crisscrossing the neighborhood present obvious hazards. But wait! There’s more. As the owner of not one, but two large Newfoundland dogs (each well over 100 pounds), I have this crazy scene running through my mind: Mary, the younger, more territorial Newf, watching an Amazon drone land in “her” front yard with a package for one of my sons, neatly dispatching the expensive vehicle (and probably the package to boot!) in a full frontal assault. Talk about “Blackhawk Down”!

A drone’s-eye view of "ground defense units" Mary and Rosie. Photo by Kyle Conard.

A drone’s-eye view of “ground defense units” Mary and Rosie. Photo by Kyle Conard.

So, as we all mull over the concept of drone delivery, enjoy these photographs of the G. Fox air delivery fleet of 1947. Even Mary wouldn’t take on one of these…

Come experience a closer look at G. Fox at CHS’ Behind-the-Scenes Tour featuring G. Fox on Saturday December 14, 2013 at 11a and 1p. Details here.

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3 thoughts on “Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a Drone!

  1. The G. Fox helicopters in Bushnell Park, what a nightmare! Commercial vehicles invading a public space. I wonder if anyone remembers or has record of the public reaction at the time. I’d guess that it was similar to recent reactions to Amazon’s prototype: a mixture of awe and delight quickly followed by annoyance and discomfort at the thought of our personal spaces being invaded by a swarm of flying consumerist parasites.

    I also assume (perhaps wrongly) that the G. Fox copters were a marketing gimmick and never part of a serious business plan. Amazon appears to be more earnest, but who knows.

  2. Pingback: Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It&rsqu...

  3. This was very interesting. The photos are great. It would be nice if the drones have the
    same duration as the G. Fox helicopters.
    I will be a frequent blog reader in the future. It was good to see you today.

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