Automatic Pilot Advances Credited to George Holloman

Holloman (center) with other pioneers in automated aviation. Image from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

On March 19, 1946, George Holloman, a pioneer in the field of aeronautical engineering and unmanned flight, died in a plane crash.

The Northampton County native developed a keen interest in radio early on. After graduating high school, Holloman went to work with the Marconi Company, later the Radio Corporation of America, developing radio designs.

Holloman soon returned to North Carolina and enrolled at what is now N.C. State University, earning a degree in electrical engineering. At State, he joined the ROTC program, and after graduation he received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army and transferred to the Army Air Corps.

Holloman eventually became assistant director of the Instrument and Navigation Laboratories at Wright Field in Ohio, overseeing the development of unmanned flight and automatic pilot and landing systems in that role. In 1937, he engineered and oversaw the first automatic landing of an airplane, flying in the machine as a passenger.

Four years later, with war clouds looming off in the distance, the Air Corps developed a new laboratory at Wright Field, called the Special Weapons Unit. Holloman was given command of the unit. At Special Weapons, he continued to oversee the development of automatic piloting systems, advanced bombsights and unmanned flying vehicles until his death.

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