The AIM-9 Sidewinder missile is an infrared-guided (heat-seeking) air-to-air missile. Often carried by fighter aircraft, the Sidewinder is a supersonic weapon with a cylindrical body, roll-stabilizing rear fins, and detachable, double-delta control surfaces mounted behind the nose to provide added maneuverability.
The newest variant of the Sidewinder missile is called the AIM-9X. It has the same rocket motor and explosive warhead as the AIM-9M that predates it but carries fixed forward canards, smaller fins, an improved imaging infrared seeker, and a propulsion section that incorporates a jet-vane steering system for improved aerobatic performance.
The AIM-9X Sidewinder Missile is compatible with Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System to make it easier than ever for pilots to leverage the weapon.
The AIM-9 Sidewinder Missile was the world’s first heat-seeking missile
The AIM-9 was the first heat-seeking missile ever put into service for any nation with its early iterations dating back to the 1950s. Incredibly, the missile was developed by U.S. Navy physicist William B. McLean, despite weapon development not being part of his job. McLean and his team developed the Sidewinder in their off time for years before it entered service.
“I personally spent nearly three years [just] considering possibilities,” McLean later recalled. “It is easy to build something complicated; it’s hard to build it so that it’s simple.”
The first Sidewinder missile ever fired was the AIM-9A, which was test launched in September of 1953. The AIM-9B was the first production version of the missile and was really only effective at close range.
AIM-9 Sidewinder missile specs
(All specifications provided by the U.S. Air Force)
Primary Function: Air-to-air missile
Contractor: Raytheon and Loral Martin
Power Plant: Hercules and Bermite Mk 36 Mod 11
Length: 9 feet, 5 inches (2.87 meters)
Diameter: 5 inches (0.13 meters)
Finspan: 2 feet, 3/4 inches (0.63 meters)
Warhead: Annular blast fragmentation warhead
Launch Weight: 190 pounds (85.5 kilograms)
Guidance System: Solid-state, infrared homing system
Introduction Date: 1956
Unit Cost: Variable, depending on lot, quantity and block
You can learn more about the AIM-9 Sidewinder Missile on the Air Force fact sheet here.
Feature image: A Sidewinder missile fired off a jet. (Created by author using U.S. Air Force and Adobe assets)
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