Primary Function: Short range air-to-air misssile
Power Plant: Hercules/Bermite MK 36 Solid-fuel rocket
Thrust: 4,000 lbs
Speed: Mach 2.5 +
Range: .6 to 22 nautical miles
Length: 9 feet 11 inches
Wingspan: 11 inches
Warhead: Annular blast fragmentation warhead, 88lbs high explosive for AIM-9H
Guidance System: Infrared homing (most models)
semi-active radar homing (AIM-9C
Aircraft Platforms: Too numerous to list
Unit Cost: Approximately: $603,817.
Manufactured by: Raytheon Corporation


The development of the Sidewinder missile began in 1946 at the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS), Inyokern, California, now the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California as an in-house research project conceived by William Burdette McLean. McLean initially called his effort "Local Fuze Project 602" using laboratory funding, volunteer help and fuze funding to develop what it called a heat-homing rocket. It did not receive official funding until 1951 when the effort was mature enough to show to Admiral "Deak" Parsons, the Deputy Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance (BUORD). It subsequently received designation as a program in 1952. The Sidewinder introduced several new technologies that made it simpler and much more reliable than its United States Air Force (USAF) counterpart, the AIM-4 Falcon that was under development in the same time period. After disappointing experiences with the Falcon in the Vietnam War, the Air Force replaced its Falcons with Sidewinders.

The primary advantage to the Sidewinder is its sophisticated, yet simple detection and guidance system. During WWII the Germans had experimented with infrared guidance systems in a large missile known as the Enzian, but were unable to get it to work reliably. The Enzian was guided by an IR detector mounted in a small, steerable telescope. A vane in front of the mirror shaded the detector, so the system could locate the target. By continually turning toward the telescope, the missile was guided toward the target using what is known as a pure pursuit. The Sidewinder improved on this concept with numerous changes and made it work.

The first combat use of the Sidewinder was on September 24, 1958 with the air force of the Republic of China (Taiwan). During that period of time, ROC F-86 Sabres were routinely engaged in air battles with the People's Republic of China over the Taiwan Strait. The PRC MiG-17s had higher altitude ceiling performance and in similar fashion to Korean War encounters between the F-86 and earlier MiG-15, the PRC formations cruised above the ROC Sabres immune to their .50 cal weaponry and only choosing battle when conditions favored them. In a highly secret effort, United States provided a few dozen Sidewinders to ROC forces and a team to modify their Sabres to carry the Sidewinder. In the first encounter on 24 Sept 1958, the Sidewinders were used to ambush the MiG-17s as they flew past the Sabres seemingly invulnerable to attack. The MiGs broke formation and descended to the altitude of the Sabres in swirling dogfights. Air combat had entered a new era.

Although originally developed for the USN and a competitor to the USAF AIM-4 Falcon the Sidewinder was subsequently introduced into USAF service when DoD directed that the F-4 Phantom be adopted by the USAF. The Air Force originally borrowed F-4B model Phantoms, which were equipped with AIM-9B Sidewinders as the short-range armament. The first production USAF Phantoms were the F-4C model, which carried the AIM-9B Sidewinder. The Air Force opted to carry only AIM-4 Falcon on their F-4D model Phantoms introduced to Vietnam service in 1967, but disappointment with combat use of the Falcon led to a crash effort to reconfigure the F-4D for Sidewinder carriage. The USAF nomenclature for the Sidewinder was the GAR-8 (later AIM-9E). During the 1960s the USN and USAF pursued their own separate versions of the Sidewinder, but cost considerations later forced the development of common variants beginning with the AIM-9L.

Estrella Warbirds Museum logo
Celebrating 30 Years!

Proud To Be Home of the

Woodland Auto Display Logo