Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles
Appendix 1: Early Missiles and Drones
Copyright © 2003-2004 Andreas Parsch

Ryan AAM-A-1 Firebird

In 1946 the USAAF awarded study contracts for several types of guided air-to-air missiles. These included project MX-799, which was assigned to Ryan Aeronautical, and which called for a fighter-launched subsonic AAM for use against bombers. In 1947, Ryan was awarded a development contract under project MX-799 for the AAM-A-1 Firebird missile, the first really viable air-to-air missile project of the U.S. Air Force. The first launch of an XAAM-A-1 prototype occurred in October 1947.

Photo: USAF

The XAAM-A-1 prototypes were launched from DF-82C and DB-26B aircraft. The missile had a solid-propellant booster, which was in line with the rear fuselage. After booster burnout, it was dropped, and the liquid-fueled sustainer engine (there is one source, though, which quotes a solid sustainer) propelled the Firebird for another 15 seconds. For stability and control, the XAAM-A-1 used cruciform moving wings and fixed tailfins. It was directed toward the target by an operator using a radio command guidance system, and used semi-active radar guidance for terminal homing. The high-explosive warhead was detonated by a proximity and impact fuzing system.

The Firebird tests continued until late 1949, when the AAM-A-1 program was cancelled. The mid-course command guidance made the missile a pure day-only clear-weather weapon, and while the possibility of a radar beam-riding guidance was studied, this option was not pursued because the subsonic XAAM-A-1 was effectively obsolete in 1950. However, data obtained during tests of the SARH terminal guidance proved useful in the development of the GAR-1/AIM-4 Falcon missile.


Note: Data given by several sources show slight variations. Figures given below may therefore be inaccurate!

Data for XAAM-A-1:

Length (w/o booster)2.29 m (7 ft 6 in); booster: 0.56 m (1 ft 10 in)
Wingspan0.81 m (2 ft 8 in)
Finspan0.81 m (2 ft 8 in)
Diameter20 cm (8 in)
Weight120 kg (260 lb)
SpeedMach 0.85
Range13 km (8 miles)
PropulsionSustainer: Liquid-fueled rocket; 2.7 kN (600 lb)
Booster: Solid-fueled rocket
Warhead40 kg (90 lb) high-explosive

Main Sources

[1] Bill Gunston: "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rockets and Missiles", Salamander Books Ltd, 1979
[2] Frederick I. Ordway III, Ronald C. Wakeford: "International Missile and Spacecraft Guide", McGraw-Hill, 1960
[3] Information provided by Chris Timm

Back to Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, Appendix 1

Last Updated: 8 September 2004