Operation Big Itch and Operation Drop Kick, the corps explored the feasibility of using fleas and mosquitoes as weapons. Declassified government documents apparently show tests were conducted, but with uninfected mosquitoes.
In 1956, the Corps conducted Operation Drop Kick when they released 600,000 uninfected mosquitoes from a plane at Avon Park Bombing Range, Florida. Within a day, the mosquitoes had spread a distance of between one and two miles and had bitten many people. The mosquitos were released across several Black communities in Florida. In the predominantly Black community of Avon Park, dozens of Black people became ill, and eight people died.
In 1958, further tests discovered at Avon Park AFB, Florida, mosquitoes could quickly be disseminated from helicopters, would spread more than a mile in each direction and would enter all types of buildings.”
A longtime Avon Park resident, Beatrice Peterson, didn’t know about mosquito releases but recalled that screwworm flies were released in the mid to late 1950s. She was only 14-years-old at the time.
“We know they released some flies, but what was the reason and why, I can’t remember why because we were in school back in the 1950s,” Peterson said. “Occasionally we would see them when they fly over and drop the little boxes out. Evidently the boxes were supposed to open up.”
A similar operation took place over Georgia, “Operation Big Buzz.” The experiment occurred in May 1955 in the U.S. State of Georgia. The operation was a field test designed to determine the feasibility of producing, storing, loading into munitions, and dispersing from aircraft the yellow fever mosquito (though these were not infected for the test). The second goal of the operation was to determine whether the mosquitoes would survive their dispersion and seek meals on the ground. When the mosquitoes were collected and it was determined that they were actively feeding on the blood of humans.
Operation Big Itch was a September 1954 series of tests at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. The tests were designed to determine coverage patterns and survivability of the tropical rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis) for use in biological warfare as a disease vector. The fleas were loaded into two types of munitions and dropped from the air. The E14 bomb and E23 bomb, which could be clustered into the E86 cluster bomb and E77 bomb, respectively. When the cluster bombs reached 2,000 or 1,000 feet the bomblets would drop via parachute, disseminating their vector. Big Itch proved successful, and the tests showed that not only could the fleas survive the fall from an airplane but they also soon attached themselves to hosts.