Entomologist uncovers WWII drone in Cape Cod woods

MASSACHUSETTS — One of the perks of being a forest entomologist is that you get to spend a lot of time walking through the woods, occasionally discovering interesting and unusual things.

Case in point, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry entomologist Ryan Hanavan was doing a forest pest ground survey September 13 in the woods of South Wellfleet, Massachusetts, when he came across something that was very much out of place.

Amid the surrounding trees, leaves, soil and rocks was clearly a man-made object that had been there for some time. The forward area of the “crash site” looked like a jumbled tangle of rusty metal. Behind that was the distinctive shape of a plane’s fuselage. If the wreck was indeed a plane, it was far too small to carry people, and it was way too big to be of the model variety.

“It’s from the Marconi Army training station that was there up until the 1950s,” said National Park Service GIS Specialist Mark Adams. He noted that the forest there today was once a field used as a bombing range by a former military training base. “We’ve also mapped unexploded ordinance.”

Photo: Pieces of a World War II drone lie in the grass.
Ryan Hanavan discovered this crash site in the woods of Cape Cod while on a forest health survey. Forest Service photo by Ryan Hanavan.

Before the military base, the land was once part of a Colonial settlement. “The area contains not just this artifact but remnants of cellar holes from Colonial era settlers. With those, we’ll see domestic trees like apple trees and lilac bushes that would indicate a homestead there which is now long gone,” he said.

“Everywhere (there) the forests were consumed by users. At the Cape Cod National Seashore we use that as a backdrop for our models. The military use was permitted for normal activity because of its national importance,” he added.

Referring to the World War II era drone, Adams said, “We consider these types of items as historical artifacts, and they’re protected by law. They are part of our heritage.”

As for Hanavan’s “discovery,” it was not the first time the drone was found. Long-time National Park Service volunteer Russ Moore first discovered the historical artifact back in 2002. Moore shared his find with the park historian, who decided it was best to leave the drone in situ as a reminder of the site's history, and to provide opportunities for others to discover it.

A few other drones have been found over the years and are held in secure museum storage space in the park. They had small engines and were radio-controlled. The drones were flown over the ocean for apprentice gunners to practice their anti-aircraft fire from shore during the height of World War II.