Tag Archives: AIM-9 Sidewinder

20 November 1963

Brigadier General Gilbert L. Meyers and Colonel Frank K. Everest delivered the first production McDonnell F-4C Phantom IIs to the Tactical Air Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. (U.S. Air Force)

20 November 1963: The U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Command accepted its first two production McDonnell F-4C Phantom II jet fighters, F-4C-15-MC 63-7415 ¹ and F-4C-15-MC 63-7416. These aircraft were the ninth and tenth production F-4Cs. They were flown to MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida, by Brigadier General Gilbert Louis Meyers, commanding the 836th Air Division, and Colonel Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest, a world-famous test pilot, commanding the 4453rd Combat Crew Training Squadron. Lieutenant General Charles B. Westover, Vice Commander, Tactical Air Command, formally accepted the new fighters on behalf of TAC.

Up until this time, the 4453rd had been training crews with McDonnell F-4B Phantom IIs on loan from the United States Navy.

McDonnell F-4C15-MC 63-7415 at Gila Bend AAF, 1967. (Stephen Miller)
McDonnell F-4C-15-MC Phantom II 63-7415, 4453rd Combat Crew Training Wing, at Gila Bend Auxiliary Air Field, Arizona, 1967. (Stephen Miller)

The McDonnell F-4C Phantom II (originally designated F-110A Spectre) was produced for the U.S. Air Force, based on the U.S. Navy McDonnell F4H-1 (F-4B after 1962) fleet defense interceptor. Evaluation testing had shown the the Navy’s F4H was superior to the Air Force Convair F-106 Delta Dart. It was faster, could fly higher, had a longer range and greater payload. It was also better suited as a tactical fighter.

The Navy operated its Phantom IIs with a pilot and a radar systems operator. The Air Force’s F-4C variant was equipped with dual flight controls and was flown by two rated pilots. The F-4C was externally the same as the F-4B, but otherwise differed by the addition of a ground attack capability. Also, while the F-4B used a hose-and-drogue system for air-to-air refueling, the F-4C was equipped with a boom refueling system. It retained the folding wings and arresting hook of the Navy variant, but deleted catapult provisions.

McDonnell F-4C-15-MC 63-7415 in SEA camouflage in service with the Hawaii Air National Guard.
McDonnell F-4C-15-MC 63-7415 in four-color South East Asia camouflage scheme, in service with the Hawaii Air National Guard.

The F-4C was 58 feet, 3¾ inches (17.774 meters) long, with a wingspan of 38 feet, 5 inches (11.709 meters) and height of 16 feet, 3 inches (4.953 meters). Its empty weight was 28,496 pounds (12,926 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 58,000 pounds (26,308 kilograms).

The F-4C-15-MC was powered by two General Electric J79-GE-15 engines. The J79 is a single-spool, axial-flow turbojet engine, with a 17-stage compressor section and 3-stage turbine. The J79-GE-15 is rated at 10,900 pounds of thrust (48.49 kilonewtons) and 17,000 pounds (75.62 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 17 feet, 4.7 inches (5.301 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.3 inches (0.973 meters) in diameter and weighs 3,699 pounds (1,677.8 kilograms).

F-4C 63-7415 in two-color gray air superiority camouflage, 199th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard.
McDonnell F-4C-15-MC 63-7415 in three-color gray air superiority camouflage, 199th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard.

The F-4C had a maximum speed of 826 miles per hour (1,329 kilometers per hour)—Mach 1.09—at Sea Level, and 1,433 miles per hour (2,306 kilometers per hour)—Mach 2.17— at 48,000 feet (14,630 meters). The fighter’s service ceiling was 56,100 feet (17,099 meters). Its maximum unrefueled range, with external fuel tanks, was 1,926 miles (3,100 kilometers).

Awaiting restoration, McDonnell F-4C-15-MC Phantom II 63-7415 at San Antonio, Texas. (ABC Pic)
Awaiting restoration, McDonnell F-4C-15-MC Phantom II 63-7415 at San Antonio, Texas. (Air-Britain Photographic Images Collection)

The standard armament for the F-4C were four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-homing missiles carried in recessed in the bottom of the fuselage. Four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles could be carried on underwing pylons. A maximum of 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms) of bombs on five hardpoints.

This McDonnell F-4 Phantom II is armed with a centerline gun pod, four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-homing guided missiles and four AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared-homing missiles. (Tommy Wu/McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom Phanatics)

During the Vietnam War, the missile armament of the Phantom II was found unsatisfactory in dogfights with enemy aircraft. The violent maneuvers of Air Combat Maneuvering (“ACM”) made it difficult for the missiles to align and track the intended target. Of 612 AIM-7 Sparrows fired by F-4s, only 56 enemy aircraft were destroyed, while 187 AIM-9 Sidewinders brought down 29 enemy aircraft. This was a kill ratio of 9% and 16%, respectively.

A SUU-16/A gun pod is test fired on McDonnell YRF-4C-14 MC Phantom II 62-12201 (YRF-110A Spectre). (U.S. Air Force)

Forward-thinking planners had assumed that an all-missile armament was all that was required in the modern era, so F-4s were built without any machine guns or cannon. The Air Force used an SUU-16/A pod containing a General Electric M61A1 20 mm rotary cannon with 1,200 rounds of ammunition mounted to the F-4’s centerline hardpoint. (Two additional SUU-16/A pods could be mounted on the outboard underwing hardpoints.) This was useful in close-in combat, but the airplane was not equipped with a suitable gun sight. It was not until the F-4E variant that a gun was incorporated into the airplane.

McDonnell F-4C-15-MC Phantom II 63-7416. This fighter crashed 22 May 1964, killing both pilots. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-4C-15-MC Phantom II 63-7416. Note the FJ-416 “buzz number” on the fuselage. This fighter crashed at the Avon Park Bombing Range, Florida, 22 May 1964, killing both pilots, Captain Joseph P. Onate and Captain William F. Buhrman. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-4C first flew 27 May 1963. 583 of this variant before production shifted to the F-4D in 1966. The F-4C remained in service until the last was retired from the Oregon Air National Guard in 1989.

Recommended reading: Engineering the F-4 Phantom II: Parts Into Systems by Glenn E. Bugos, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1996

The first McDonnell F-4C Phantom II, 63-7407. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ Source: UNITED STATES AIR FORCE STATISTICAL DIGEST FISCAL YEAR 1964 (19th Edition), Directorate of Data Automation (AFADA), Comptroller of the Air Force, Headquarters, USAF, Washington, D.C.: Chronology of United States Air Force Major Events— FY 1964, at Page XXXVIII

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 November 1974

McDonnell Douglas F-15A-8-MC Eagle 73-0090 at Luke AFB. The two aircraft in this photograph are painted “air superiority blue”. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell Douglas F-15A-8-MC Eagle 73-0090 at Luke Air Force Base. The two aircraft in this photograph are painted “Air Superiority Blue” (F.S. 35450). (U.S. Air Force)

14 November 1974: The very first operational McDonnell Douglas F-15A Eagle air superiority fighters were delivered to the 555th Tactical Training Squadron, 58th Tactical Training Fighter Wing, at Luke Air Force Base, west of Phoenix, Arizona. The acceptance ceremony was presided over by President Gerald R. Ford.

“. . . I am here today to underscore to you and to the world that this great aircraft was constructed by the American people in the pursuit of peace. Our only aim with all of this aircraft’s new maneuverability, speed, and power is the defense of freedom.

“I would rather walk a thousand miles for peace than to have to take a single step for war.

“I am here to congratulate you: the United States Air Force, McDonnell Douglas, Pratt and Whitney, all of the many contractors and workers who participated in this very, very successful effort, as well as the pilots who have so diligently flight-tested the F-15 Eagle. All of you can underline my feeling that we are still pilgrims on this Earth, and there still is a place for pioneers in America today.”

—Gerald R. Ford, Jr., 38th President of the United States of America

1974, November 14 – Luke Air Force Base – Phoenix Arizona – Gerald R. Ford, Lieutenant Colonel Ernest "Ted" Laudise – looking in cockpit of F-15 Eagle (plane) – Trip to Arizona; Ceremony to Commemorate the Delivery of the First F-15 Eagle Fighter Aircraft - Phoenix, Arizona
Lieutenant Colonel Ernest “Ted” Laudise explains some features of the McDonnell Douglas F-15A Eagle to President Gerald R. Ford at Luke Air Force Base, 14 November 1974. (Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum)

The F-15A Eagle is a Mach 2.5+ fighter with outstanding acceleration and maneuverability. The F-15A was produced by McDonnell Douglas at St. Louis, Missouri, from 1972 to 1979. It is a single-seat, twin-engine, air superiority fighter. It is 63 feet, 9.0 inches (19.431 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9.7 inches (13.048 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 5.4 inches (5.624 meters). The F-15A has an empty weight of 25,870 pounds (11,734 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 44,497 pounds (20,184 kilograms).

McDonnell Douglas F-15A-11-MC Eagle 74-0111 at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, November 1974. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-15A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney JTF22A-25A (F100-PW-100) afterburning turbofan engines. The F100 is a two-spool, axial-flow turbine engine with a 3-stage fan section; 10-stage compressor; single chamber combustion section; and 4-stage turbine (2 low- and 2 high-pressure stages). The engine has a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 12,410 pounds of thrust (55.202 kilonewtons); 14,690 pounds (65.344 kilonewtons, 30-minute limit; and a maximum 23,840 pounds (106.046 kilonewtons), 5-minute limit. The F100-PW-100 is 191 inches (4.851 meters) long, 46.5 inches (1.181 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,035 pounds (1,376.7 kilograms).

The cruise speed of the F-15A Eagle is 502 knots (578 miles per hour/930 kilometers per hour). It has a maximum speed of 893 knots (1,028 miles per hour/1,654 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and 1,434 knots (1,650 miles per hour/2,656 kilometers per hour) at 45,000 feet (13,716 meters). The ceiling is 63,050 feet (19,218 meters) at maximum power. It can climb at an initial 67,250 feet per minute (342 meters per second) from Sea Level, and with a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.15:1, The F-15 can climb straight up. The Eagle’s combat radius is 638 nautical miles (734 statute miles/1,182kilometers).

A McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle from the 555th Tactical Training Squadron with a load of AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-15A is armed with one General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 20mm rotary cannon with 938 rounds of ammunition, four AIM-7F Sparrow radar-guided missiles and four AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles. The fighter can also be armed with a Mk.82 500-pound or Mk. 84 2,000-pound bombs.

Two McDonnell Douglas F-15A Eagles of the Oregon Air National Guard, 5 November 2003. F-15A-7-MC 73-089 is nearest the camera. The other is F-15A-14-MC 75-068. (Oregon Air National Guard)

384 F-15A Eagles were built before production shifted to the improved F-15C version. As F-15Cs became operational, the F-15As were transferred to Air National Guard units assigned to defend U.S. continental airspace. The last F-15A was retired from service in 2009.

McDonnell Douglas F-15C-37-MC Eagle 84-014, 144th Fighter Wing, California Air National Guard. (Master Sergeant Roy Santana, U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 September 1953

A Grumman F6F-5K Hellcat drone awaits its fate on “death row” at Armitage Field, NOTS China Lake, California. (U.S. Navy)

11 September 1953: At Naval Ordnance Test Station China Lake, the experimental Philco/General Electric XAAM-N-7 “Sidewinder” heat-seeking air-to-air missile scored its first “hit” when it passed within 2 feet (0.6 meters) of a radio-controlled Grumman F6F-5K Hellcat. The missile was fired from a Douglas AD-4 Skyraider flown by Lieutenant Commander Albert Samuel Yesensky, United States Navy, the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of Guided Missile Unit SIXTY-ONE (GMU-61).

XAAM-N-7 Sidewinder mounted under the right wing of Douglas AD-4 Skyraider Bu. No. 123920 (U.S. Navy)
XAAM-N-7 Sidewinder mounted under the right wing of Douglas AD-4 Skyraider Bu. No. 123920 (U.S. Navy)

The Sidewinder was later redesignated AIM-9. It entered service in 1956 as the AIM-9B and has been a primary fighter weapon for 60 years.

A Raytheon XAAM-N-7 Sidewinder I missile mounted under the left wing of a Douglas AD-4 Skyraider, Bu. No. 123920, circa 1952. (U.S. Navy)
This black-and-white photograph of a Philco/General Electric Sidewinder I missile shows better detail. It is mounted under the left wing of Douglas AD-4 Skyraider, Bu. No. 123920, circa 1952. (U.S. Navy)

The AIM-9 Sidewinder is a Mach 2.5+ missile, equipped with an infrared seeker to track the heat signature of the target aircraft. (The Hellcat drones used in the early test had flares mounted on the wingtips to give the experimental missile a target).

The current production version, AIM-9X Block II, is produced by Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson, Arizona. It is 9 feet, 11 inches long (3.023 meters), 5 inches in diameter (12.70 centimeters), and weighs 188 pounds (85 kilograms). The warhead weighs 20.8 pounds (9.4 kilograms). The missile’s range and speed are classified. At current production levels, the average cost of each AIM-9X is $420,944 (FY 2015 cost). Block III development was cancelled for FY 2106.

Future Astronaut Wally Schirra flew many of the early test flights at NOTS China Lake. On one occasion, a Sidewinder came back at him, and only by skill and luck was he able to evade it.

This sequence shows the effects of a hit on an F6F-5K drone by an experimental XAAM-N-7 Sidewinder missile. (U.S. Navy)
This sequence shows the effects of a hit on an F6F-5K drone by an experimental XAAM-N-7 Sidewinder missile. (U.S. Navy)

NOTC China Lake is now designated as Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake. It is located approximately 55 miles (88 kilometers) north-northeast of Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of Southern California.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 September 1972

Captain Charles Barbin DeBellevue, U.S. Air Force, with his F-4D Phantom II at Udorn RTAFB, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)

9 September 1972: Captain Charles Barbin DeBellevue, United States Air Force, a Weapons System Officer flying on F-4D and F-4E Phantom II fighters, became the high-scoring American Ace of the Vietnam War when he and his pilot, Captain John A. Madden, Jr., shot down two Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 19¹ fighters of the Không Quân Nhân Dân Việt Nam (Vietnam People’s Air Force), west of Hanoi.

Captain DeBellevue was assigned to the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base. With Captain Richard S. Ritchie, he had previously shot down four MiG 21 fighters using AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles. Then while flying a combat air patrol in support of Operation Linebacker, he and Captain Madden, aboard F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 66-0267, call sign OLDS 01, used two AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles to destroy the MiG 19s. These were Madden’s first two aerial victories, but for DeBellevue, they were number 5 and 6.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 19

Madden and DeBellevue had fired two AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles at a MiG-21 which was on approach to land at the Phúc Yên Yen air base northwest of Hanoi, but both missiles missed. The MiG was then shot down by gunfire from an F-4E flown by Captain Calvin B. Tibbett and 1st Lieutenant William S. Hargrove (after two of their missiles also missed). The flight of Phantoms was then attacked by MiG 19s. DeBellevue reported:

We acquired the MiGs on radar and positioned as we picked them up visually. We used a slicing low-speed yo-yo to position behind the MiG-19s and started turning hard with them. We fired one AIM-9 missile, which detonated 25 feet from one of the MiG-19s. We then switched the attack to the other MiG-19 and one turn later we fired an AIM-9 at him.

I observed the missile impact the tail of the MiG. The MiG continued normally for the next few seconds, then began a slow roll and spiraled downward, impacting the ground with a large fireball. Our altitude was approximately 1,500 feet at the moment of the MiG’s impact.

— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter III  at Pages 104–105.

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 17.44.20The first MiG-19, damaged by the Sidewinder’s close detonation, crashed on the runway at Phuc Yen.

After becoming the war’s highest-scoring American ace, Chuck DeBellevue was sent to Williams Air Force Base, Arizona, for pilot training. He became an aircraft commander of F-4E Phantom IIs. He retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1998, after 30 years of service.

DeBellevue’s F-4D, 66-0267, was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It was reassembled with parts from other damaged Phantoms and is on display as a “gate guard” at Homestead Air Force Base, Florida.

F-4D-29-MC 66-7463, in which he scored his first and fourth kills with Steve Ritchie, is on display at the United States Air Force Academy. Like DeBellevue, this airplane is also credited with 6 victories. DeBellevue’s F-4E-36-MC, 67-0362, in which he and Ritchie shot down their second and third MiG 21s, was sold to Israel in 1973.

McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 66-0267, flown by Madden and DeBellevue, 9 September 1972, on display at the main gate, Homestead AFB, Florida. (© Europix)

¹ Many VPAF MiG 19s were the Chinese-built Shenyang J-6 variant.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 July 1972

Irving L. Burrows prepares for teh first flight of the pre-production YF-15A-1-MC Eagle air superiority fighter at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
Irving L. Burrows prepares for the first flight of the pre-production YF-15A-1-MC Eagle air superiority fighter at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (U.S. Air Force)

27 July 1972: McDonnell Douglas Chief Experimental Test Pilot Irving L. Burrows made the first flight of the prototype YF-15A-1-MC Eagle, 71-0280, at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Irving L. Burrows
Irving L. Burrows

The F-15A Eagle is a single-seat, twin-engine air superiority fighter, built by the McDonnell Douglas Corporation at St. Louis, Missouri. The fighter has outstanding acceleration and maneuverability. It is 63 feet, 9 inches (19.431 meters) long, with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9.75 inches (13.049 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 7.5 inches (5.677 meters).

The first pre-production prototype McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, YF-15A-1-MC 72-0280, on its first flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California, 27 July 1972. (U.S. Air Force)

The wings’ leading edges are swept to 45°. The angle of incidence is 0°. The wings have 1° anhedral. The total wing area is 608 square feet (56.5 square meters).

The F-15A has an empty weight of 25,780 pounds (11,694 kilograms), and maximum takeoff weight of 44,497 pounds (20,184 kilograms).

McDonnell Douglas YF-15A-1-MC Eagle 71-0280, with a McDonnell Douglas RF-4C Phantom II chase plane, in flight near Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

The fighter was powered by two Pratt & Whitney JTF22A-25A (F100-PW-100) turbofan engines. The F100 is a two-spool, axial-flow afterburning turbine engine with a 3-stage fan section; 10-stage compressor; single chamber combustion section; and 4-stage turbine (2 low- and 2 high-pressure stages). The F100-PW-100 has a maximum continuous power rating of 12,410 pounds of thrust (55.20 kilonewtons) and intermediate rating of 14,690 pounds (65.34 kilonewtons), (30 minute limit). Its maximum power rating is 23,840 pounds (106.05 kilonewtons) with afterburner (5 minute limit). The F100-PW-100 is  16 feet, 4.3 inches (4.986 meters) long, 3 feet, 10.5 inches (1.181 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,179 pounds (1,442 kilograms).

An early production McDonnell Douglas F-15A-8-MC Eagle, 73-0090, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. The fighter is painted “air superiority blue.” (U.S. Air Force)

The Eagle is a Mach 2.5+ fighter. The cruise speed of the F-15A Eagle is 502 knots (578 miles per hour/930 kilometers per hour). It has a maximum speed of 1,434 knots (1,650 miles per hour/2,656 kilometers per hour) at 45,000 feet (13,716 meters)—Mach 2.503. The service ceiling is 63,050 feet (19,218 meters). It can climb 67,250 feet per minute (342 meters per second), and with a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.15:1, the fighter could climb straight up.

The The F-15A’s combat radius is 638 nautical miles (734 statute miles/1,182 kilometers). Its maximum ferry range is 2,362 nautical miles (2,718 statute miles/4,374 kilometers).

A McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle over the White Sands Missile Range banks away from the camera to display its air-to-air missile armament, 1 May 1980.. (Technical Sergeant Frank Garzelnick, U.S. Air Force)

The F-15A is armed with one General Electric M61A1 Vulcan 20mm rotary cannon with 938 rounds of ammunition, four AIM-7F Sparrow radar-guided missiles and four AIM-9E/L Sidewinder infrared-homing missiles. The fighter could also carry a variety of bombs.

There were 12 pre-production F-15 aircraft, serial numbers 71-0280–71-0291. 384 F-15A fighters were built from 1972 to 1979, before production switched to the improved F-15C. The last F-15A Eagle in U.S. Air Force service, F-15A-19-MC 77-0098, was retired from the Oregon Air National Guard, 16 September 2009.

The last McDonnell Douglas F-15A Eagle in U.S. Air Force service. F-15A-19-MC 77-0098, prepares for its final flight from Portland, Oregon, to Davis-Monthan AFB, 16 September 2009. The pilot was LCOL Steve Beauchamp, 123rd Fighter Squadron, 142nd Fighter Wing, Oregon Air National Guard. (U.S. Air Force) 09016-F-8260H-184

The first YF-15A, 71-0280, is on display at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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