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[1.0] US Target Drones

v1.2.0 / 1 of 16 / 01 jan 03 / greg goebel / public domain

* The first important use of robot aircraft was as targets for anti-aircraft gunnery training. Target "drones" were introduced into wide-scale service for this application during World War II, and remain in widespread use for gunnery and air-to-air combat training. The use of robot aircraft as targets also provided a basis for more advanced applications of the technology.

Early target drones were not much more sophisticated than hobbyist's radio controlled (RC) model airplanes. The only payload they could handle was a towed target sleeve. In time, target drones became more sophisticated, carrying countermeasures, scoring devices, active or passive radar enhancement devices, and tow targets.

Target drones are usually launched by aircraft; or off a rail using solid-fuel rocket assisted takeoff (RATO) boosters; or hydraulic, electromagnetic, or pneumatic catapult. Very small target drones can be launched by elastic bungee catapults. Few target drones have landing gear, and so they are generally recovered by parachute or, in some cases, by skid landing.


[1.1] REGINALD DENNY / RADIOPLANE Q2-A, BTT FAMILY
[1.2] NORTHROP GAM-67 CROSSBOW, AQM-38, AQM-35 / NORTH AMERICAN MQM-42A
[1.3] BEECH MQM-39A / MQM-61A CARDINAL
[1.4] RYAN BQM-34 FIREBEE & FIREBEE II
[1.5] BEECH AQM-37 / TELEDYNE-RYAN AQM-81 FIREBOLT / OSC SSST
[1.6] NORTHROP CHUKAR I, II, & III
[1.7] BEECH MQM-107 STREAKER / CEI SKEETER
[1.8] US ARMY FQM-117 TARGETS / BATS
[1.9] FULL-SCALE AIRCRAFT TARGETS

[1.1] REGINALD DENNY / RADIOPLANE Q2-A, BTT FAMILY

* The first pilotless aircraft, intended for use as "aerial torpedoes" or what we would now call "cruise missiles", were built during and shortly after World War I, and led to the development of radio-controlled pilotless target aircraft in Britain and the US in the 1930s.

In 1931, the British developed the Fairey "Queen" radio-controlled target from the Fairey IIIF floatplane, building a small batch of three, and in 1935 followed up this experiment by producing larger numbers of another RC target, the "DH.82B Queen Bee", derived from the de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane trainer. Through some convoluted path, the name of "Queen Bee" is said to have led to the use of the term "drone" for pilotless aircraft, particularly when they are radio-controlled.

The US Navy began experimenting with radio-controlled aircraft during the 1930s as well, resulting in the Curtiss N2C-2 drone in 1937. RC aircraft, including modified B-17 and B-24 bombers, were used in combat on a small scale during World War II as aerial torpedoes, though with no great success.

* The first large-scale production drone was the product of an interesting fellow named Reginald Denny, born Reginald Leigh Deymore in Britain. He served with the British Royal Flying Corps during World War I, and after the war emigrated to the United States to seek his fortunes in Hollywood as an actor.

Denny played a lead role in a number of his earlier films, generally as a comedic Englishman, and later had reasonably steady work as a supporting actor in dozens of films, including a screen version of ANNA KARENINA. Between acting jobs he pursued his interest in RC model aircraft, opening a model-airplane shop on Hollywood Boulevard in the early 1930s. This shop evolved into the "Radioplane" company.

Denny believed that low-cost RC aircraft would be very useful for training anti-aircraft gunners, and in 1935 demonstrated a prototype target drone, the "RP-1", to the US Army. This led to demonstration of an "RP-2" in 1938, with flights of the "RP-3" and "RP-4" in 1939. The Army placed an order for 53 RP-4s, designating them the "OQ-1".

This small order led to a much bigger 1941 order from the US Army for the company's "RP-5A", which became the US Army "OQ-2A". The US Navy also bought the drone, designating it "Target Drone Denny 1 (TDD-1)". Thousands were built, manufactured in a plant at the Van Nuys Airport in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

The OQ-2A was a simple aircraft, powered by a two-cylinder two-cycle engine, providing 4.5 kW / 6 HP and driving contra-rotating propellers. It really looked like nothing more than a plain and simple, if big, hobbyist RC flying model aircraft. The RC control system was built by Bendix.

   RADIOPLANE OQ-2A:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
 
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                3.73 meters         12 feet 3 inches
   length                  2.65 meters         8 feet 8 inches
   takeoff weight          47.2 kilograms      104 pounds

   maximum speed           137 KPH             85 MPH / 74 KT
   service ceiling         2,440 meters        8,000 feet
   endurance               70 minutes

   launch scheme           Conventional runway takeoff.
   recovery scheme         Parachute or runway landing.
   guidance system         Radio control.
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

* Radioplane built a series of improved targets, though details are unclear, unsurprising given the obscurity of the subject as well as the multiple and confusing designations applied to each model.

However, the ultimate result of this evolution, what would eventually be called the "Basic Training Target (BTT)" family, is well known, and remained in service for the rest of the century.

The BTT family began life in the late 1940s, evolving through a series of refinements with the US Army designations of "OQ-19A" through "OQ-19D", and the US Navy name of "Quail" with designations of "KD2R-1" through "KD2R-5". In 1963, when the US military adopted a standardized designation system, the surviving US Army BTT variants became "MQM-33s" and the Navy KD2R-1, the only member of the family still in Navy service, became the "MQM-36 Shelduck". The "BTT" designation wasn't created until the 1980s, but is used here as a convenient way to resolve the tangle of designations.

The MQM-36 is the most evolved of the BTT family, but retains the same general configuration as the other members. It is larger and more businesslike than the first-generation RP-5A, and is powered by a flat-four four-stroke McCulloch piston engine with 71.2 kW / 95 HP. The Shelduck can carry radar enhancement devices on its wingtips.

   RADIOPLANE MQM-36 SHELDUCK:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
 
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                3.5 meters          11 feet 6 inches
   length                  3.85 meters         12 feet 8 inches
   height                  0.76 meters         2 feet 6 inches
   empty weight            123 kilograms       271 pounds
   launch weight           163 kilograms       360 pounds

   maximum speed           370 KPH             230 MPH / 200 KT
   service ceiling         7,000 meters        23,000 feet
   endurance               1 hour

   launch scheme           RATO booster or bungee catapult.
   recovery scheme         Parachute.
   guidance system         Radio control.
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

Over 73,000 BTT targets were built in all, and the type has been used by at least 18 nations internationally.

A variant of the BTT named the "MQM-57 Falconer" was built for battlefield reconnaissance, with first flight in 1955. The Falconer was similar in appearance to the Shelduck, but had a slightly longer and definitely stockier fuselage. It had an autopilot system with radio-control backup, and could carry cameras, as well as illumination flares for night reconnaissance. Equipment was loaded through a hump in the back between the wings.

Although it only had an endurance of a little more than a half-hour, making it of limited use, about 1,500 Falconers were built and the type apparently was used internationally with several different military forces, remaining in service into the 1970s.

* Just to confuse matters, the US military acquired a number of other drones similar in many ways to the Radioplane drones. The Globe company built a series of targets, beginning with the piston-powered "KDG Snipe" of 1946, which evolved through the "KD2G" and "KD5G" pulsejet-powered targets and the "KD3G" and "KD4G" piston-powered targets, to the "KD6G" series of piston powered targets.

The KD6G series appears to have been the only one of the Globe targets to be built in substantial numbers. It was similar in size and configuration to the BTT series, but had a twin-fin tail. It was redesignated "MQM-40" in the early 1960s, by which time it was generally out of service.

In the late 1950s, along with the Falconer, the US Army acquired another reconnaissance drone, the Aerojet-General "MQM-58 Overseer", that had a similar configuration to the Falconer, but was about twice as heavy. It does not appear to have been built in large quantities, and may have never been much more than an operational experiment platform to evaluate more sophisticated reconnaissance sensors than could be carried by the Falconer.

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[1.2] NORTHROP GAM-67 CROSSBOW, AQM-38, AQM-35 / NORTH AMERICAN MQM-42A

* Radioplane was bought out by Northrop in 1952 to become the Northrop Ventura Division, though it appears that the "Radioplane" name lingered on for a while. Reginald Denny died in 1967 at age 75, after what sounds like an interesting and profitable dual career in the film and aviation industries.

The Northrop Ventura division went on to build improved jet and rocket propelled targets. The "Crossbow" was a jet-propelled drone that was first flown in 1956. Sketchy details available seem to imply that it wasn't produced in large numbers, but it was notable because it was used not only as a target, but also for reconnaissance, electronic countermeasures, and decoy missions, as well as in the anti-radar missile role. In its missile role, it was designated "B-67" (later "GAM-67", where "GAM" stood for "Ground Attack Missile").

The Crossbow had a cigar-shaped fuselage, straight wings, and a straight twin-fin tail. It was powered by a Continental J-69 turbojet, which was a French Turbomeca Marbore II engine built in the US under license, with 4.41 kN (450 kg / 1,000 lb) thrust.

   NORTHROP GAM-67 CROSSBOW:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
 
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                3.81 meters         12 feet 6 inches
   length                  5.82 meters         19 feet 1 inch
   height                  1.37 meters         4 feet 6 inches
   loaded weight           1,270 kilograms     2,800 pounds

   maximum speed           1,090 KPH           675 MPH / 587 KT
   service ceiling         12,200 meters       40,000 feet
   range                   480 kilometers      300 MI / 260 NMI

   launch scheme           RATO booster or air launch.
   recovery scheme         Parachute.
   guidance system         Autopilot with radio control backup.
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

Two Crossbows could be carried by a Boeing B-50 Superfortress bomber, while four Crossbows could be carried by a Boeing B-47 Stratojet bomber. Exactly how far the US Air Force (USAF) got in testing the Crossbow is unclear, but in any case its service was short-lived. It lacked adequate speed and range, and appears to have been too expensive. However, it did point the way to the range of missions that would be performed by UAVs in later decades.

* The Northrop "AQM-38" was a rocket-propelled target that was used for training Army Nike anti-aircraft missile crews and Navy fighter pilots. The The Army version was originally designated the "RP-76" and changed in 1963 to the "AQM-38A", while the Navy version was originally designated the "RP-78" and later changed to the "AQM-38B". The Navy version had a slightly more powerful engine.

Like the Crossbow, the AQM-38 had a cigar-shaped fuselage and guidance provided by an autopilot with RC backup, but it was much smaller and was powered by a solid rocket engine, with an exhaust nozzle just behind each wing. It had shoulder mounted wings with a slight sweepback, fins underneath each side of the nose, and a peculiar downward-mounted "tee" tail and smaller dorsal fin.

   NORTHROP AQM-38A:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
 
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                1.52 meters         5 feet
   length                  2.95 meters         9 feet 8 inches
   height                  0.46 meters         1 foot 6 inch
   empty weight            90 kilograms        200 pounds
   launch weight           135 kilograms       300 pounds

   maximum speed           1,530 KPH           950 MPH / 826 KT
   service ceiling         22,000 meters       72,000 feet
   endurance               23 minutes

   launch scheme           Air launch.
   recovery scheme         Parachute.
   guidance system         Autopilot with radio control.
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

The AQM-38A appears to have been largely made of plastics, and carried radar enhancement devices to simulate larger aircraft. It went into service in 1959 and over 2,000 were built. It appears to have been replaced by the Beech AQM-37, discussed later, and was phased out in the early 1970s.

* Northrop also designed a turbojet-powered Mach 2 target in the late 1950s, originally designated the "Q-4" but later given the designation of "AQM-35". In full production, it was a slender dart with wedge-shaped stubby wings, swept conventional tail assembly, a GE J85 turbojet engine with 17.1 kN (1,745 kg / 3,850 lb) thrust mounted under the tail, and was air-launched by a DC-130 or other carrier aircraft. It was 10.7 meters (35 feet) long and wieghed 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds). The AQM-35 was only built in limited quantities and may never have reached full operational service.

* During the same timeframe, the North American also built a Mach 2 target drone for the US Army, designated the "MQM-42A Redhead / Roadrunner". It was another sleek dart, with mid-mounted small delta wings, an inverted vee tail, a Marquardt ramjet engine on the back, and was launched by RATO booster. It was substantially smaller than the AQM-35, with a length of 7.57 meters (24 feet 10 inches) and a weight of 400 kilograms (900 pounds). First flight was in 1961. The MQM-42A was apparently built in modest numbers, and used for training Hawk surface to air missile crews. It remained in service into the 1970s.

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[1.3] BEECH MQM-39A / MQM-61A CARDINAL

* While the Radioplane Shelduck was, and remains, a popular piston-powered target, such a simple target is relatively easy to build, and it had competition, particularly in the form of the Beech "MQM-61A Cardinal", as it was designated by the US Army.

Beechcraft, now part of Raytheon, designed the "Model 1001", as the initial version of this target drone was designated, in 1955 in response to a US Navy requirement for gunnery and air-to-air combat training. Production of the type began in 1959, with the drone being given the Navy designation of "KDB-1 (later MQM-39A)". The Model 1001 led to the similar "Model 1025" for the US Army, which gave it the MQM-61A designation.

The MQM-61A is a simple monoplane with a vee tail. It is substantially larger than the Shelduck, and powered by a 94 kW (125 HP) McCulloch TC6150-J-2 flat-six, air-cooled, two-stroke piston engine driving a two-blade propeller. It can tow banners or targets of its own, with two targets under each wing, and also carries scoring devices.

   BEECHCRAFT MQM-61A CARDINAL:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
 
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                3.95 meters         13 feet
   length                  4.60 meters         15 feet 1 inches
   height                  1.02 meters         3 foot 4 inches
   launch weight           301 kilograms       664 pounds

   maximum speed           560 KPH             350 MPH
   service ceiling         13,100 meters       43,000 feet
   endurance               > 1 hour

   launch scheme           RATO booster.
   recovery scheme         Parachute.
   guidance system         Autopilot with radio control.
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

A total of 2,200 Cardinals of all variants were built, the majority for the US Army, with the rest operated by the US Navy, the US Marine Corps, and by Spain. Some may have also been operated by Germany and Switzerland. It is now out of production, though it still persists in service.

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[1.4] RYAN BQM-34 FIREBEE & FIREBEE II

* One of the first jet-propelled targets, and one of the most widely-used target drones ever built, was the Teledyne-Ryan "Firebee". This target was the result of a 1948 USAF request that led to award of a contract to Ryan that same year, and first flight of an "XQ-2 Firebee" prototype in early 1951. The drone featured swept flight surfaces and a circular nose inlet. The Firebee could be either air-launched, or ground-launched with a single RATO booster, was radio-controlled, and recovered by parachute.

Following successful evaluation, the target was ordered into production for the USAF as the "Q-2A", powered by a Continental J69-T-19B turbojet engine, with 4.7 kN (481 kg / 1,060 kg) thrust. The Air Force then obtained small numbers of a "Q-2B" with a more powerful engine for high-altitude performance.

The US Navy bought the Firebee as the "KDA-1", with much the same appearance as the Q-2A, differing mainly in that the powerplant was a Fairchild J44-R-20B turbojet, with 4.4 kN (453 kg / 1,000 lb) thrust. KDA-1 could be distinguished from the Q-2A from the fact that they had a inlet centerbody. The US Army also obtained a version designated the "XM21" that differed from the KDA-1 only in minor details.

The Navy obtained several improved variants of the KDA-1, including the "XKDA-2" and "XKDA-3", which were not built in quantity, and the "KDA-4", which was the main production version for the series. These variants were hard to distinguish from the KDA-1, differing mainly in successively uprated J44 engines and minor changes.

* In the late 1950s, the USAF awarded Ryan a contract for a substantially improved "second generation" Firebee, the "Model 124", originally with the designation "Q-2C". The initial prototype performed its first flight in late 1958 and went into production in 1960. In 1963, it was redesignated the "AQM-34A". The old first-generation KDA-1 and KDA-4 targets that were still flying with the Navy were then, somewhat confusingly, given the designations "AQM-34B" and "AQM-34C" respectively.

The AQM-34A emerged as the Firebee as it is recognized today, with a bigger airframe, longer wings, and in particular a "chin"-type inlet under a pointed nose, in contrast to the circular intake of the first-generation Firebees. It was powered by a Continental J69-T-29A, a copy of the improved Turbomeca Gourdon derivative of the Marbore, with 7.56 kN (770 kg / 1,700 lb) thrust. The Navy also adopted the AQM-34A, while the Army obtained a ground-launched version designated "MQM-34D", with longer wings and a heavier RATO booster.

   RYAN BQM-34A FIREBEE:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
 
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                3.91 meters         12 feet 10 inches
   length                  7 meters            22 feet 10 inches
   empty weight            680 kilograms       1,500 pounds
   launch  weight          1,135 kilograms     2,500 pounds

   maximum level speed     1,140 KPH           710 MPH / 620 KT
   service ceiling         18,300 meters       60,000 feet
   endurance               75 minutes

   launch scheme           RATO booster or (usually) aircraft launch.
   recovery scheme         Parachute.
   guidance system         Autopilot with radio control.
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

During the 1970s, the Army updated some of their MQM-34Ds for use as targets for "Stinger" man-portable SAMs, refitting these drones with a General Electric J85-GE-7 turbojet, with 10.9 kN (1,110 kg / 2,450 lb) and salvaged from old ADM-20C Quail decoys (discussed in a later chapter). The modified MQM-34Ds featured a revised forward fuselage with a circular nose intake that gave them an appearance something like that of a "stretched" first-generation Q-2A target, and were given the designation of "MQM-34D Mod II".

In the meantime, the Navy was upgrading their BQM-34As with improved avionics, with the updated machines given the new designation "BQM-34S". In the early 1980s, the Navy also began to refit their machines with the uprated J69-T-41A engine, with 8.5 kN (871 kg / 1,920 lb) thrust.

Also in the early 1980s, the Air Force began to update their BQM-34As with improved avionics, and fitted them with the J85-GE-7 engine. The new engine was fitted without major changes in the target's airframe, and the improved USAF variants retained the BQM-34A designation.

BQM-34A production ended in 1982, but the production line was reopened in 1986 to produce more BQM-34S targets. Air Force and Navy Firebees have received further upgrades since that time, with most refitted beginning in 1989 with the improved J85-GE-100 engine, also with 10.9 kN (1,110 kg / 2,450 lb) thrust, as well as modernized avionics. In the late 1990s, some Firebees were also fitted with Global Positioning System navigation systems.

* The Firebee's main air launch platform is the Lockheed DC-130 Hercules "drone controller" aircraft, which can carry four drones on underwing pylons. The Firebee is generally snatched out of the air by a helicopter that sweeps up the drone's parachute, simplifying recovery and reducing damage to the target from ground impact. The Firebee can float for an extended period of time if it comes down in water.

The Firebee is a simple, reliable, and low-cost target that has been adapted to a wide range of purposes, as later chapters will show. In the target role, it can be fitted with various control systems, some that give it fighter-like maneuverability; scoring and countermeasures systems; radar enhancement devices to allow it to emulate a wide range of combat aircraft; and wingtip thermal flares, which cause heat-seeking missiles to aim for the wingtips, not the engine exhaust, sparing the target. It can also tow a target sleeve or other types of towed targets.

The Firebee has proven remarkably successful and is still in operation with the US Navy and Air Force. The Firebee has also served with the Canadian Armed Forces and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, with Japanese Firebees built by Fuji Heavy Industries. A small number were also supplied to NATO programs. More than 7,000 Firebees have been built, with 1,280 of them being the first generation variants.

* Teledyne-Ryan also developed a third-generation "Model 166 / Firebee II" with supersonic performance, with the US Navy awarding a development contract to the company in 1965 and initial flight in 1968. Although its external appearance was substantially different from that of the original Firebee, the Firebee II used the same engine and control systems, and was also given the BQM-34 designation. The Navy version was the "BQM-34E", while the Air Force version was the "BQM-34F".

The Air Force BQM-34F was slightly heavier, with an additional parachute for mid-air recovery by helicopter "snatch". The Navy BQM-34E was updated with some improved avionics in the mid-1970s, with the upgrade redesignated "BQM-34T".

The Firebee II was a sleek dark of an aircraft with swept tailplane and swept mid-body wings. It was powered by a Teledyne CAE J69-T-6 turbojet with 8.2 kN (835 kg / 1,840 lb) thrust, with the intake on the belly forward of the wings and the exhaust under the tailfins. Internal fuel capacity was small, but the target could be fitted with a conformal external tank that was dropped before boosting to supersonic speeds. Flight operations were performed much as they are for the Firebee I.

   RYAN BQM-34F FIREBEE II:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
 
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                2.71 meters         8 feet 11 inches
   length                  8.61 meters         28 feet 3 inches
   height                  1.70 meters         5 feet 7 inches
   empty weight            656 kilograms       1,446 pounds

   maximum speed           1,835 KPH           1,140 MPH / 990 KT 
   service ceiling         18,300 meters       60,000 feet
   endurance               73 minutes

   launch scheme           RATO booster or usually aircraft launch.
   recovery scheme         Parachute.
   guidance system         Autopilot with radio control.
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

286 Firebee IIs were built, a tiny quantity compared to the massive numbers of Firebee Is. The Firebee II is now out of service, while the Firebee I continues in operation and is nearing its 50th birthday, making it one of the longest-lived aircraft in the US military inventory.

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[1.5] BEECH AQM-37 / TELEDYNE-RYAN AQM-81 FIREBOLT / OSC SSST

* In the 1959, the US Navy and US Air Force issued a joint request for a new high-speed expendable target. Beechcraft won the competition, and the result was a small delta-winged drone with wingtip fins and a liquid rocket motor, originally designated "XKD2B-1" but now known as the "AQM-37". The type first flew in May 1961, entered service with the US Navy in 1963, and remains in service.

The original version was the "AQM-37A" or "Beech Model 1019". The Model 1019 was followed by a confusing list of subvariants, some of which were new production, others which were modifications of existing AQM-37s. These variants were intended to to simulate different classes of threats, such as sea-skimming antiship missiles or high-altitude naval attack missiles, or provide better performance.

One high-performance variant with improved thermal protection attained a speed of Mach 4.7 and an altitude of over 34 kilometers (112,000 feet) on a ballistic trajectory. The final US Navy variant was designated "AQM-37C".

After an evaluation of the AQM-37A in the late 1960s, the US Army bought a small initial batch of "Model 1100 / 1101" AQM-37As that, unlike other variants, were recoverable, using a parachute system. Some of this batch were intended for low-altitude operation and fitted with a radar altimeter, and others were intended for high-altitude operation and had a barometric altimeter. The Army later ordered over 400 improved non-recoverable "Model 1102" variants of the AQM-37A.

The USAF evaluated the AQM-37 in the early 1970s but was slow to adopt it. Records of USAF procurement of the type are sketchy, but it does seem to be currently part of the Air Force target inventory. Small quantities of AQM-37s were also sold to Italy, Israel, and France, while Britain bought several hundred of the type. The Meteor company of Italy built a number of AQM-37s under license.

All variants are air-launched, with the US Navy traditionally using the F-4 Phantom for the job and the British using the Canberra. As these types are largely out of service, it is unknown if they are still doing this job.

5,000 AQM-37s were built into 1997, with the bulk of deliveries to the US Navy. Raytheon has been working on an "AQM-37D", with the same airframe and engine as the AQM-37C but with a new electrical system and avionics, and a follow-on "Super AQM-37" as well. The AQM-37 still remains in production, though status of the AQM-37D and Super AQM-37 efforts is unclear.

   BEECH AQM-37C:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
 
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                1 meter             3 feet 4 inches
   length                  4.27 meters         14 feet
   height                  66 centimeters      2 feet
   empty weight            124 kilograms       272 pounds
   launch weight           272 kilograms       600 pounds

   maximum speed           4,890 KPH           3,040 MPH / 2,640 KT
   service ceiling         34,000 meters       112,000 feet
   endurance               15 minutes

   launch scheme           Aircraft launch.
   recovery scheme         Parachute.
   guidance system         Autopilot.
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

Range figures include glide after engine burnout. Engine burn lasts up to five minutes.

The earlier AQM-37A is about 44 centimeters (a foot and a half) shorter than the AQM-37C and weighs slightly less. The engine is built by Rocketdyne, though in some sources it is credited to Harley Davidson, the motorcycle manufacturer! This appears to be due to a sequence of company buyouts whose details are of no great interest here.

* The AQM-37's liquid rocket engine uses "storable" propellants, in contrast to "cryogenic" propellants like liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen that have to be loaded up just before launch lest they evaporate away. The problem is that the storable propellants in common use are "hypergolic", meaning that the propellants spontaneously ignite when mixed together.

This tends to make them potentially hazardous to deal with. As a result, in the late 1960s the Air Force investigated an alternate propulsion scheme for the AQM-37 under project "Sandpiper". The program involved fitting a few AQM-37As with "hybrid" engines that used solid fuel with storable nitric acid oxidizer. The tests were judged promising, and so the Air Force went on to establish a "High Altitude Supersonic Target (HAST)" program in the 1970s. HAST suffered various difficulties, and it wasn't until 1979 that a contract was awarded to Teledyne Ryan for the "Model 305 / AQM-81A Firebolt".

The first Firebolt flew in 1983. The new target looked very much like the AQM-37, but had the hybrid rocket engine. The flight test program was completed, but then the HAST effort stalled completely, and the AQM-81A never went into production.

* The AQM-37 fills a valuable "niche" as a training target, since it can simulate high-speed threats, such as long-range missiles. However, there are some specialized threats that it does not simulate well, such as fast sea-skimming antiship missiles.

The US Navy has gone through a succession of programs in an attempt to obtain such a target. An initial investigation was conducted in the early 1970s for a target designated the "BQM-90", but lack of funds led to the cancellation of the program in 1973 even before a contractor was selected.

As an interim measure, the Navy then decided to convert some old "RIM-8 Talos" shipboard antiaircraft missiles to targets, giving them the designation "MQM-8G Vandal". The Talos targets were not entirely satisfactory for the job, and so in 1977 the Navy awarded a contract to Teledyne Ryan for a purpose-designed target, the "Model 258 / BQM-111A Firebrand".

The Firebrand was a neat dart with small delta wings, a conventional tail arrangement, and a Marquardt ramjet mounted at each end of the horizontal tailplane. It was to be launched from a DC-130, boosted up to Mach 1.2 by a solid-fuel booster, and cruise towards its objective at Mach 2.2, dropping to low level during the terminal "attack" phase. However, the Firebrand began to seem a bit too heavy for its role, and funding was tight again, so the Navy axed the program in 1982.

That meant keeping the Vandal targets in service, while the Navy went through another iteration to obtain an antiship missile simulator target, awarding a contract to Martin Marietta for the "AQM-127A Supersonic Low-Altitude Target (SLAT)" in 1984. The SLAT was a "flying stovepipe", little more than a cylinder powered a hybrid boost-rocket / ramjet engine with an intake under the nose, and no flight surfaces except for cruciform tailfins. The program was killed off in 1991 without flying a prototype.

As a result, the Vandal had to soldier on into the 1990s, but its numbers were dwindling. Later in the decade, as an interim solution, the Navy acquired a handful of Soviet-built "Kh-31A" ramjet-powered anti-ship missiles, modified to "MA-31" targets by Boeing, as an interim solution.

In the summer of 2000, in a fourth attempt to acquire an antiship missile simulator target, the US Navy signed a contract with Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC) to build the "GQM-163 Supersonic Sea-Skimming Target (SSST)".

The OSC SSST will use an Atlantic Research Corporation (ARC) variable-flow solid-fuel ducted rocket/ramjet engine for propulsion, with the target ground-launched by a Hercules Mark 12 solid-rocket booster as used on older versions of the Navy's Standard SAM. OSC will work with Raytheon to obtain the guidance system, which will be based on the guidance system for the AQM-37D.

The SSST will be 5.5 meters (18 feet) long, have a diameter of 36 centimeters (14 inches), a cruise speed of Mach 2.5 (3,060 KPH / 1,900 MPH) at an altitude of lower than 6 meters (20 feet) over the wavetops, and a range of at least 83 kilometers (52 miles).

The OSC contract involves development of six prototypes, with options for production. Full-rate production is expected to at the level of about 40 targets per year. The SSST should be in flight tests by 2003 and reach operational status a year or so after that.

Vague comments in the aerospace press indicate that Northrop Grumman is also working on a target, designated "T21", to simulate a stealthy sea-skimming cruise missile, or for use as a light cruise missile itself. Details are unclear at this time.

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[1.6] NORTHROP CHUKAR I, II, & III

* Following Radioplane's successful early target drones, Northrop scored another major success in the target field with the "Chukar" series of small jet-powered drones. The Chukar has gone through three major revisions, including the initial "MQM-74A Chukar I", the "MQM-74C Chukar II", and the "BQM-74C Chukar III".

The Chukar series began in the early 1960s with a US Navy requirement for a new target drone. The company developed a prototype with the company designation of "NV-105" and featuring a delta wing, flying it in 1964. The delta wing didn't work out and was replaced by a straight wing, resulting in the "NV-105A", which was first flown in 1965. The NV-105A was accepted by the Navy and went into production as the MQM-74A in 1968.

The MQM-74A had a neatly tapered cigar-shaped fuselage, straight mid-mounted wings, an underslung jet engine with the intake under the wings, and a conventional tail configuration with the horizontal tailplanes set in an inverted vee. It was powered by a Williams International WR24-6 turbojet engine with a thrust of 530 newtons (54 kg / 121 lb), and was launched by RATO booster from the ground or a ship.

   MQM-74A CHUKAR I:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
 
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                1.69 meters         5 feet 7 inches
   length                  3.58 meters         11 feet 9 inches
   height                  0.7 meters          2 feet 4 inches
   empty weight            106 kilograms       233 pounds
   max loaded weight       192 kilograms       425 pounds

   maximum speed           790 KPH             490 MPH / 425 KT
   service ceiling         12,200 meters       40,000 feet
   endurance               1 hour

   launch scheme           RATO booster.
   recovery scheme         Parachute.
   guidance system         Autopilot with radio control.
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

The Navy purchased 1,800 MQM-74A Chukar Is. Several hundred more were purchased in total by NATO for a multinational test range on the island of Crete, as well as the British Royal Navy and the Italian Navy.

* The Navy liked the Chukar I but wanted a somewhat faster version, and in the early 1970s Northrop developed the improved experimental "MQM-74B", which was followed by the production "MQM-74C Chukar II". The Chukar II is difficult to distinguish from the Chukar I, but the Chukar II is slightly scaled up and uses a uprated WR24-7 turbojet with 805 newtons (82 kg / 180 lb) thrust that gives it a top speed of 950 KPH (590 MPH).

Like the Chukar I, the Chukar II is ground or ship launched only. At least 1,400 Chukar IIs were built, mostly for the US Navy, but other customers included NATO, the UK, West Germany, Greece, Iran, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, and Spain.

* In 1978, the US Navy requested a still more sophisticated drone, and Northrop responded with the BQM-74C Chukar III. This improved variant is visibly different from its predecessors, featuring a more cylindrical fuselage, in contrast with the tapered fuselage of its predecessors.

The BQM-74C incorporates a microprocessor-based autopilot that allows it to be programmed for much more sophisticated flight operations. The BQM-74C also can be air launched as well as ground launched. The original engine was the WR24-7A, or J400-WR-402, with 805 newtons (82 kg / 180 lb) thrust, but in 1986 production was upgraded to the J400-WR-404 with 1.07 kN (109 kg / 240 lb) thrust.

   BQM-74C CHUKAR III:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
 
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                1.76 meters         5 feet 9 inches
   length                  3.95 meters         13 feet
   height                  0.72 meters         2 feet 4 inches
   empty weight            133 kilograms       294 pounds
   max loaded weight       199 kilograms       438 pounds

   maximum speed           982 KPH             610 MPH / 530 KT
   service ceiling         12,200 meters       40,000 feet
   Endurance               1.7 hours

   launch scheme           Air launch or RATO booster.
   recovery scheme         Parachute.
   guidance system         Autopilot with radio control.
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

These specifications are for the air-launched version of the BQM-74C. The ground-launched version is slightly heavier.

More than 1,600 BQM-74Cs have been built. Northrop built ten "BQM-74C / Recce" UAVs for tactical reconnaissance for US Navy evaluation, but this variant did not go into production. The current production version of the BQM-74C is the "BQM-74E", which incorporates the uprated J400-WR-404 engine as standard, and has a third greater range and endurance than its predecessor.

By the way, "Chukar" is the name of an American species of partridge. As they are hunted for sport, it seems that Northrop felt that the name was appropriate for an aircraft whose purpose in life is to be shot at. The name "Chukar" is apparently only formally applied to export versions of the drone, but for convenience it is used for all variants in this discussion.

* In the 1980s, Northrop built a next-generation target, the "NV-144", that was substantially bigger and faster than the Chukar III, but the NV-144 did not enter production.

Northrop, now part of Northrop Grumman, is now promoting a next-generation drone named "Target 2000". This swept-wing drone will have a 1.32 kN (135 kg / 300 lb) thrust engine and 50% greater range than the BQM-74, with a speed of up to Mach 0.93 and greater agility (with an ability to pull 8 gees). Target 2000 has a design lifetime of 20 flights, and can be programmed to simulate a range of different aircraft and cruise missiles. It can be tow targets and decoys, and is compatible with current Chukar support systems and infrastructure.

In 2002, Northrop Grumman received a development contract from the US Navy to go ahead with full development of the Target 2000 as the "BQM-74F", with initial flight expected in 2004.

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[1.7] BEECH MQM-107 STREAKER / CEI SKEETER

* The US Army began a "Variable-Speed Training Target (VSTT)" competition in 1972. Beech Aircraft, now part of Raytheon, won the contest in 1975 with a design that was designated the "MQM-107 Streaker". Initial deliveries to the US Army of the first version, the "MQM-107A", began in the spring of 1976.

The Streaker is a neat little aircraft, with a pencil-like fuselage, low-mounted swept wings, a conventional tail assembly, and a turbojet engine mounted in a belly pod. The Streaker is ground-launched with a RATO booster, can be used to tow banner targets, and can be fitted with radar-enhancement devices, flare dispensers, and scoring systems. Several variants of the Streaker have been built:

Beechcraft also built a variant of the Streaker with a twin-fin tail, the "Model 997 / BQM-126A", for a Navy contract in the mid-1980s. The twin-fin tail was implemented because the single tailfin of the Streaker was too tall to permit carriage by aircraft. First flight was in 1984, but lack of funds forced the Navy to cancel the project.

   MQM-107B STREAKER:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
 
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                3 meters            9 feet 10 inches
   length                  5.51 meters         18 feet 1 inches
   height                  1.47 meters         4 feet 10 inches
   empty weight            261 kilograms       575 pounds
   max loaded weight       664 kilograms       1,464 pounds

   maximum speed           950 KPH             590 MPH / 515 KT
   service ceiling         12,200 meters       40,000 feet
   endurance               2 hours 18 minutes

   launch scheme           RATO booster.
   recovery scheme         Parachute.
   guidance system         Autopilot with radio control.
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

The Streaker remains in production, though apparently the business was bought up by Tracor, which was then absorbed by BAE Systems of the UK, and so the target is, strictly speaking, now the "BAE Streaker".

Whatever the name, well over a thousand have been built. The main user remains the the US Army, though a small number were obtained by the US Air Force, and the type has been purchased by at least six other nations. The Swedes have given their Streakers the designation "RB-06". Australia operates the MQM-107E as the "Kalkara (Storm Petrel)".

In the mid-1980s, Raytheon proposed a countermeasures variant of the Streaker known as the "Raider", but there were no buyers. In the late 1990s, Boeing tried to promote a target based on the MQM-107D known as the "Drone RF Electronic Enhancement Mechanism (DREEM)", but nobody bought it, either.

* The fact that the Streaker was designed in the early 1970s implies its name is something of a joke. At that time there was a fad in the US, now almost completely forgotten, called "streaking", which involved people dashing through public and often televised events at a dead run, wearing nothing but athletic shoes and generally a mask of some sort. Given how visible this activity was, it seems hard to believe that whoever gave the MQM-107 the name "Streaker" didn't know what it implied.

* The Air Force is running low on Firebee and Streaker subscale targets, and has signed a contract with Composite Engineering INC (CEI) of Sacramento, California, to obtain a new subscale target named the "Skeeter". Initial flight of prototypes was in 2001, and production is expected in 2004.

The Skeeter has a strong resemblance to the Streaker, with a turbojet engine under the belly. The target is about 6 meters (20 feet) long, has a wingspan of 3 meters (10 feet), and is largely made of composites. Incidentally, for readers not familiar in detail with "Yanklish", a "skeeter" is a slang term for a "mosquito".

The Air Force wants the Skeeter to have greater endurance (up to two hours), performance (up to Mach 0.9), and payload (up to 225 kilograms / 500 pounds), with the payload including tow targets and radar enhancement devices. The Skeeter will be able to tolerate up to nine gees in turns. However, current procurement plans for the Skeeter do not come close to matching the attrition rate for current targets.

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[1.8] US ARMY FQM-117 TARGETS / BATS

* Relatively sophisticated targets like the Firebee or Chukar are often supplemented, for anti-aircraft gunnery training at least, by drone targets that are little more than relatively large RC model aircraft, not conceptually much different from that of Reginald Denny's early Radioplane drones. One example is the US Army's "FQM-117A Radio Controlled Miniature Aerial Target (RCMAT)", a small delta-winged aircraft powered by piston engine, built by RS Systems. It can carry a radar reflector, an infrared source, or a laser scoring device to allow trainees to shoot at the thing with lasers and not guns.

The first RCMATs were delivered in 1979, and about 30,000 were built. In 1983, RC Systems introduced the "FQM-117A Augmented RCMAT (ARCMAT)", which was an RCMAT fitted with various dummy nose and tail sections to give it an appearance similar to that of various Soviet and US aircraft in hopes of training gunners to recognize them. Thousands of RCMATs were converted to ARCMATs.

The ARCMAT led to the "FQM-117B", which was RCMAT kit built in the form of 1/9th-scale model of a MiG-27, and the "FQM-117C", which was similarly a 1/9th-scale model of an F-16. These variants also had a number of refinements, such as "shoot back" laser to train troops in taking cover, and a "flash-bang-smoke" system that went off if the target took a given number of hits.

A total of over 100,000 FQM-117 targets of all types were built. The FQM-117B and FQM-117C began to be phased out in the late 1990s in favor of the more realistic and capable "Remotely Piloted Vehicle Target System (PVTS)", which includes 1/5th scale models of the Su-25 Frogfoot close-support aircraft and the Mil-24 Hind gunship.

* The US Army also operates another simple target, the "MTR-15 Ballistic Aerial Target System (BATS)", for gunnery training. It consists of a low-cost missile body powered by a small solid-fuel booster, and has no guidance system or scoring devices. It is simply fired over a training range and the trainees take shots at it.

The current BATS was introduced in the early 1970s, with about 11,000 built. It replaced a very similar ballistic target, the "MQR-16A Gunrunner", that had been introduced in the late 1960s as a training target for Redeye shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). The last Gunrunners were expended in the 1980s. It appears that the BATS is now nearing the end of its stocks. It is unclear what replacement will be, if any.

In the late 1960s, at the other end of the performance scale, the Army developed the "MQR-13A Ballistic Missile Target System (BMTS)", which was a series of targets based on the booster stage from a Nike-Ajax SAM, with several possible second stages. It was used to evaluate antimissile weapons, was not used as a regular training target, and was only built in very small numbers. Other limited-series antimissile test targets have been built since that time, but as they are clearly not UAVs they will not be discussed further here in this document.

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[1.9] FULL-SCALE AIRCRAFT TARGETS

* Obsolete jet fighters remain popular as "full-scale" target drones. Their operating costs tend to be higher than those of purpose-built drones, but they also have higher performance and are more realistic duplicates of actual threats.

Many US target drone conversions have been performed by Tracor Systems, now part of Marconi. The Tracor QF-86 Sabre and QF-4 Phantom drones remain in operation, though the QF-100 Super Sabre, QF-102 Delta Dagger, and QF-106 Delta Dart targets are out of service, having made their final sacrifices to the defense of America. A discussion of the details of these aircraft is beyond the scope of this document, and will be discussed elsewhere.

The US Defense Department feels they have enough QF-4s to last to about 2010, but well before that time, the Phantom will no longer be remotely representative of a serious air-combat threat. An "Air Superiority Target (AST)" program has now been started to evaluate a number of options for a replacement, the most favored being the conversion of old F-16 fighters into "QF-16" targets.

However, other possibilities are being evaluated, such as purchase of old MiG-29 fighters from former Soviet states for conversion into targets. In any case, as with subscale targets, the Air Force is concerned that the funding levels for full-scale targets does not come close to meeting their requirements.

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