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Shooting Star Missile Guidance System Auctioned

The Early Technology Sale took place today at Bonhams Knightsbridge, with an extensive collection of pieces curated by Michael Bennett-Levy. The highlight of the sale was the ‘Block III’ aeroplane missile guiding television monitoring system, sold for an outstanding £36,000.

Missile Guidance SystemThe missile guiding device was secretly manufactured by RCA for use during WWII, 1944-45 and was the WWII prototype of the cruise missile system.

B17 bombers were fitted with a television camera in the nose, stripped out and filled with explosives. Two pilots took off from an airbase in the UK in the B17 and just before the plane left the mainland switched on the camera and the remote control and bailed out. The B17 was then guided towards its target by a ‘mother’ plane, flying between ten to twenty miles in the rear, using the navigator’s television.

Two of the B17’s blew up in practice runs when the pilots switched on the television camera, probably due to the high voltage sparking and firing the explosives. One of the pilots killed was Joe Kennedy, the elder brother of President JFK who had been due to return to the US but volunteered to join what had been described as a “dangerous operation”.

Michael Bennett-Levy comments: “In the final stages of WWII beginning in 1944, the US devised a television system with the idea of using a B17 bomber filled with explosives to be guided by remote control to crash on to specific targets such as submarine pens at Saint-Nazaire.”

The overall sale was extremely well received, with 90% of the 758 lots sold, including a unique collection of pre-war televisions and the first road skates. The sale total was an impressive £683,384.

Parts and ephemera from LEO II the world’s first commercial computer reached £8,400. This computer, of which there were 13 made, was created by Lyons in May 1958, was sold to Stuart & Lloyds steel makers and was the first purchased computer to be used in the world of the new technology.
The diverse collection collected by Michael Bennett-Levy included clocks, barometers, toys, silent films, typewriters, microscopes, gramophones, globes, wireless sets and televisions – brought together through their rare or pioneering status.

Amongst the exceptional pieces was an unequalled collection of 26 pre-war televisions. Of the estimated 500 still surviving in the world, this represented a considerable proportion.