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"I can remember when the first pulsars were discovered. I was able to go and sit down and listen to graduate students talking about what their theories, to explain what pulsars really were."
- Vernor Vinge

Automatic Air Mail Plane  
  A pilotless airplane for delivery of cargo.  

The same device that was used in automatic automobiles was placed in airplanes. However, the evil machinations of rival companies caused these new devices to go crazy.

Then the automatic airmail planes changed from peaceful carrier pigeons to predatory hawks. They chased other planes, deliberately colliding with them. They plunged to distraction against mountainsides and skyscrapers.
From The Living Machine, by David H. Keller.
Published by Wonder Stories in 1935
Additional resources -

I can't find an earlier reference to the idea of an autonomous airplane (note that this is different from the idea of an automatic pilot).

As one of the characters remarks "It was a dangerous thing to do. A machine is alright and a brain is alright, but God never intended the two to be hitched together."

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Living Machine
  More Ideas and Technology by David H. Keller
  Tech news articles related to The Living Machine
  Tech news articles related to works by David H. Keller

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