The pigeon-guided missile is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a World War II–era missile with three pigeons in the nose cone, with each bird trained to tap at the outline of a German Bismarck–class battleship. If the pigeon pecked in the center of its little screen, the missile flew straight. If it pecked off-center, the missile would alter course to get back on track.
Despite sounding ridiculous, the pigeon-guided missile was both fully functional and incredibly reliable. B.F. Skinner, the brain behind the idea, was a professor of psychology at Harvard University who was renowned for his behavioral experiments with rats. After developing the missile, he stated that he’d never use rats again because pigeons were so trainable.
The idea was fully tested but never used in combat. Skinner blamed the reluctance of generals to get behind the idea of a pigeon guiding an explosive. But in truth, he was beaten to the punch behind the scenes by another invention, radar-guided missiles.