|Primary Function:||Target Drone|
|Power Plant:||General Electric J85-GE-7 turbojet
|Thrust:||10.9 kN (1,110 kgp / 2,450 lb) thrust|
|Speed:||Max: 690 mph, Cruise: 630 mph|
|Flight Ceiling:||60,000 feet|
|Length:||21 feet 11|
|Wing area:||36 sq feet|
|Weight:||Gross: 2,060 lbs; Empty: 1,500 lbs|
|Endurance:||75 minutes 30 seconds|
|Rate of Climb:||16,000 ft/minutes|
|Manufactured by:||Ryan Aeronatical|
|Owner:||On loan from National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, FL|
The Firebee series of aerial target drones and RPVs (Remotely Piloted Vehicles) were manufactured by Teledyne Ryan and were at one point, one of the most successful and versatile unmanned aircraft developed. The Firebee series has seen widespread usage during the past 50 years.
In 1948, the Pilotless Aircraft Branch of the USAF issued a requirement for a jet-powered aerial target with a high subsonic speed, for use in ground-to-air and air-to-air gunnery. The designation Q-2 was assigned to the project, and in August 1948, Ryan was announced winner of the design competition. The first powered flight of an XQ-2 occurred in early 1951, and in the same year, the drone was ordered into mass production as the Q-2A Firebee. Similar versions were also ordered by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army as KDA-1 and XM21, respectively.
The Q-2A Firebee was a target drone powered by a Continental J69-T-19 turbojet. When ground lauched, the drone was boosted into the air by an Aerojet General X102F solid-fueled rocket booster. The Navy's KDA-1 and Army's XM21 were powered by a Fairchild J44-R-20 engine, and could be recognized by the distinctive intake center body.
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 kgp / 2,450 lb) thrust and salvaged from old ADM-20C Quail decoys. 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 upgraded their BQM-34As with improved avionics, which were then designated BQM-34S. In the early 1980s, the Navy also began to refit these with the uprated J69-T-41A engine, providing 1,920 pound (871 kg) thrust. 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 2,450 pound (1,110 kg) thrust, as well as modernized avionics. In the late 1990s, some Firebees were also fitted with a GPS navigation receivers.
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 target drone can be fitted with various control systems, some that give it fighter-like maneuverability. It is also equipped with 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 rather than the engine exhaust, sparing the target. It can also tow a target sleeve or other types of towed targets.
The Firebee, originally designated the Q-2, was a high-speed target drone for both surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles. It was used primarily for the testing of newly-developed missiles and for the training of fighter-interceptor pilots whose aircraft were armed with missiles.
Capable of being launched from the ground or from an airplane in flight, the Firebee is radio-controlled during its mission by an operator on the ground. Upon being hit by a missile and disabled, or upon completing its mission undamaged, the Firebee is lowered safely to earth by a self-contained parachute. 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 ditches in water.