Tag Archives: AIM-9 Sidewinder

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. The F-15A is 63 feet, 9 inches (19.431 meters) long, with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9½ inches (13.043 meters) and overall height of 18 feet, 5½ inches (5.626 meters). Its total wing area is 608 square feet (56.49 square meters). The F-15A has an empty weight of 25,870 pounds (11,734 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 66,000 pounds (29,937 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) engines. The F100 is a two-spool, axial-flow, afterburning turbofan 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 (55.202 kilonewtons), and an intermediate rating of 14,690 pounds (65.344 kilonewtons) (30-minute limit). The maximum power rating is 23,840 pounds (106.268 kilonewtons), with afterburner (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 fighter’s service ceiling is 63,050 feet (19,218 meters). From Sea Level, the F-15A could climb at 67,250 feet per minute (341.63 meters per second). With a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.15:1, it could climb straight up. The Eagle’s combat radius is 638 nautical miles (734 statute miles/1,182 kilometers). Its ferry range was 2,362 nautical miles (2,718 statute miles/4,374 kilometers).

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)

© 2018, 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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22 May 1958

Colonel Edward Norris LeFaivre, United States Marine Corps.

22 May 1958: At NAS Point Mugu, a naval air weapons test center on the southern California shoreline, Major Edward Norris LeFaivre, United States Marine Corps, set five Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Time to Altitude with a Douglas F4D-1 Skyray, Bureau of Aeronautics (“Bu. No.”) serial number 130745.

Runway 21 at Point Mugu (NTD) has a slight downhill gradient and the departure end is very near the shoreline, with an elevation of just 9 feet (2.7 meters). This runway has been used for time-to-altitude records on several occasions.

Douglas F4D-1 Skyray Bu. No. 130745 at NOTS China Lake, circa 1960. (China Lake Alumni)

Major LeFaivre’s Skyray climbed from the runway to 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 44.392 seconds¹; 6,000 meters (19,685 feet), 1:06.095 ²; 9,000 meters (29,528 feet), 1:30.025 ³; 12,000 meters (39,370 feet), 1:51.244 ⁴; and 15,000 meters (49,213 feet), 2:36.233.⁵ This was the first time that a 15,000 meter had been set.

F4D-1 Bu. No. 130745 was the fifth production Skyray. The Douglas Aircraft Company F4D-1 Skyray was a single-place, single-engine, transonic all-weather interceptor, designed to operated from the United States Navy’s aircraft carriers. It had a tailless delta configuration with rounded wing tips. The Skyray was 45 feet, 7-7/8 inches (13.916 meters) long, with a wingspan of 33 feet, 6 inches (10.211 meters) and height of 12 feet, 11-7/8 inches (3.959 meters). The span with wings folded for storage on flight and hangar decks was 26 feet, 1-7/8 inches (7.972 meters), The wings’ leading edges were swept aft 52.5°. The total wing area was 557 square feet (51.747 square meters).

The interceptor had an empty weight of 16,024 pounds (7,268 kilograms) and maximum weight of 28,000 pounds (12,701 kilograms).

Early production F4D-1s were powered by a Pratt & Whitney J57-P-8 engine. The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor section (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages) and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The J57-P-8 had a normal power rating of 8,700 pounds of thrust (38.70 kilonewtons) at 5,750 r.p.m. , N1. The military power rating was 10,200 pounds of thrust (45.37 kilonewtons) at 6,050 r.p.m., N1. Maximum power was 14,500 pounds of thrust (64.50 kilonewtons) at 6,050 r.p.m., N1, with afterburner. The engine was 3 feet, 4.5 inches (1.029 meters) in diameter, 20 feet, 10 inches (6.35 meters) long.

The cruise speed of the F4D-1 was 520 miles per hour (837 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 722 miles per hour (1,162 kilometers per hour, or 0.95 Mach) at Sea Level, and 695 miles per hour (1,118 kilometers, or Mach 1.05) at 36,000 feet (10,973 meters). The Skyray had a service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters), and maximum range of 1,200 miles (1,931 kilometers).

The F4D-1 was armed with four 20 mm Colt Mark 12 autocannon with 70 rounds per gun. The Mark 12 had a rate of fire of 1,000 rounds per minute. Four AAM-N-7 (AIM-9) Sidewinder infrared-homing air to air missiles could be carried under the wings, or various combinations of 2.75 inch rocket pods, up to a maximum of 76 rockets.

A U.S. Marine Corps Douglas F4D-1 Skyray, Bu. No. 134815, assigned to VMF(AW)-115, just south of the Palos Verdes Peninsula of Southern California, 4 April 1957. (Robert L. Lawson Collection, National Naval Aviation Museum)

The Skyray had very unpleasant handling characteristics. It was used to teach pilots how to handle unstable aircraft. Bu. No. 130745 was used as a flight test aircraft at NOTS China Lake, a Naval Ordnance Test Station near Ridgecrest, in the high desert of southern California. (China Lake, NID, is about 55 miles/89 kilometers north-northwest of Edwards AFB, EDW).

Lt. Jan M. Graves, USNR

On 21 October 1960, Lieutenant Jan Michael (“Black Jack”) Graves, United States Naval Reserve, was flying 130745, simulating aircraft carrier takeoffs from Runway 21 at China Lake. The F4D-1 had just taken off when, at approximately 100 feet (30.5 meters), it slowly rolled upside down and then crashed on to the runway. It slid about 1.14 miles (1.83 kilometers) before coming to  stop. Lieutenant Graves was killed.

Accident investigators found that a broken wire in the rudder feedback system had allowed the rudder to go to its maximum deflection.

As this Douglas F4D-1 Skyray dives away from the camera, its unusual delta wing planform can be seen. (United States Navy)

Edward Norris LeFaivre was born at Baltimore, Maryland, 11 October 1924. He attended the University of Maryland, graduating with a Bachelor of Science Degree. He was then employed at the Glenn L. Martin Company.

LeFaivre joined the United States Marine Corps in 1942. Trained as a Naval Aviator, he was assigned as a night fighter pilot with VMF(N)-533 at Yontan, Airfield, Okinawa. On 18 May 1945, Lieutenant LeFaivre shot down two enemy bombers with his Grumman F6F-5N Hellcat, for which he was awarded the Silver Star.

Captain LeFaivre continued as a night fighter pilot during the Korean War. Flying a Grumman F7F Tigercat assigned to VMF(AW)-513, on 21 October 1951, he repeatedly attacked a heavy concentration of enemy vehicles, LeFaivre’s airplane was shot down. He was rescued by helicopter, but his observer was listed as missing in action. Captain LeFaivre was awarded two additional Silver Stars for his actions on that night.

From 8 August to 31 December 1967, Colonel LeFaivre commanded Marine Air Group 13 (MAG-13), based at Chu Lai Air Base, Republic of South Vietnam. The group’s three squadrons were equipped with the McDonnell F-4B Phantom II.

Colonel Edward Norris LeFaivre retired from the Marine Corps in 1972. He died 28 June 1992 at the age of 68 years, and was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

¹ FAI Record File Number 8591

² FAI Record File Number 8592

³ FAI Record File Number 8593

⁴ FAI Record File Number 8594

⁵ FAI Record File Number 8595

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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