Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Sidewinder Overview Part I: AIM-9B

Sidewinder geneology that some one on the internet was nice enough to create...

The AIM-9 Sidewinder is the most successful short range air-to-air missile in the world. Since entering service in 1956, it has been employed by twenty-eight nations worldwide and has seen combat in multiple contested air spaces since its first action in 1958. It's low cost and continuous upgrades have enabled the missile to achieve success well into the 21st Century.
It's incredible life span has allowed the AIM-9 to serve on a range of different air frames, making it the air-to-air missile you will likely see in your kit's box, especially if you intend to build a Western subject. However, through the copied K-13 Soviet version, you may also see it in Eastern Bloc subjects as well like the MiG-21.

So what's this about?

It's not hard to look up the history of the Sidewinder online. Good thing I am not writing a history book. Instead, I recognize that the little missile is quite popular in the United States as well as the air forces of foreign nations. It will appear in almost any kit of NATO jet aircraft from the post-Korean war era up to the present day. The missile has many variants, from B to X, and has been painted in many different colors. It is not uncommon to see models loaded with Sidewinders that are not the right color, or variant for the aircraft.
Please keep in mind though that this is not a complete work. I am sure I don't have every example of every Sidewinder that may be of use to you. This is merely a guideline and a visual reference for modelers...with some history intertwined.

Initial Development...

Testing the AIM-9A (Sidewinder 1) at China Lake

While there was an early developmental life of the Sidewinder, modeler's shouldn't need to fuss with it. The origins of the AIM-9, as far as it concerns us, begins with the AIM-9B. The missile was born in the early 1950's, the brainchild of the Naval Ordnance Test Station at China Lake, California and downed it's first target drone in September, 1953. Shortly there after, the Sidewinder entered service with the United States Navy. Being a product of the Navy, and in keeping with their long standing tradition of not knowing a good thing when they see one, the USAF wanted nothing to do with it, believing in their superior AIM-4B Falcon. The AIM-9 would not be embraced by the Air Force until a fly-off between it and the Falcon in 1955 would indeed proved its worth. 
With both the US Air Force and Navy on board, General Electric would produce  AIM-9B missiles until 1962.

AIM-9B China Lake
F3H Demon and F3D Skyknight test the AIM-9B at China Lake. The F3H-2N would be approved to carry Sidewinders. The Skynight would not use the AIM-9B in the operational Navy but instead went on to employ the AIM-7 Sparrow.

Common Users...


Argentina became a recipient of the AIM-9B from 1966 to 1967. Though they were likely second hand missiles, they were used on the A-4Q combat aircraft.

AIM-9B on an Argentinian A-4


The Australians received AIM-9B's for use on their F-86F's (CA-27) and then by 1964 were employing them on the Mirage-IIID and A-4's.

Australian F-86 with AIM-9B

Australian F-86 with AIM-9B and red striped pylon. Note the yellow explosive hazard rings around the warhead section of the missile

Australian F-86F with nondescript AIM-9B's

Australian F-86 with an AIM-9B

An Australian F-86 at an air show sporting an AIM-9B

Australian Mirage with AIM-9B's fefaturing red fins
Australian Mirages with orange and blue AIM-9B's

Australian A-4 with a pair of AIM-9B's


Belgium requisitioned the AIM-9B starting in 1959 for their CF-100, Hunter and F-104 combat aircraft. These were likely manufactured under license in West Germany, as much of the NATO Sidewinders were.

Belgian Air Force F-104 with AIM-9B's on the wingtips. Note the cloth seeker cover

Belgian F-104 with AIM-9B


Brazil purchased their AIM-9B's in 1975 for their F-5E aircraft.

Brazilian F-5 with two AIM-9B's on the wingtips

Brazilian F-5 with AIM-9B's on the wingtips

A pair of Brazilian F-5's with AIM-9B's


Canada invested in the AIM-9B shortly after it became operational, mounting it to their F-104's, CF-86's and F2H-3 aircraft.

Canadian Banshee with two AIM-9B's

The same Banshee with two AIM-9B's


Denmark obtained their AIM-9B's in the early 1960's from the European production line and loaded them on their F-104 aircraft.

An example of a Danish F-104 with an AIM-9B. The green color signifies a training round
F-104 from Denmark with two AIM-9B's under the fuselage


The database I was searching for this project did not provide me any information on when the French Navy took ownership of the AIM-9B but you can clearly see it was capable of being mounted on their F-8's.

French F-8 with AIM-9B

AIM-9B on a French F-8


Germany started receiving the AIM-9B in 1960 for their F-104's (probably F-86K's) and would later employ them on the F-4. The Germans would play a big role in Sidewinder manufacturing, and by 1969, the AIM-9B's supplied to NATO countries were built in West Germany and became known as the AIM-9F or AIM-9B FGW.2. This missile was improved by a new nose dome, solid state electronics and a seeker cooled by carbon dioxide.

German F-4 with AIM-9B

Two AIM-9B's on a German F-4

A look at the AIM-9B from the rear on a German Starfighter

The nearest German F-104 has an AIM-9B on the wingtip 

Another wingtip mounted AIM-9B on a German F-104


Greece received their AIM-9B's in 1961 through 1970 and mounted them on the F-5 and F-104's in their inventory.

Though its mounted as a static display, it is the only example I have so far of a HAF AIM-9B


Iran got their AIM-9B's in the same time period as Greece. They would use them on the F-86 and F-5A.

Iranian F-5's with AIM-9B's on the wingtips

A pair of Iranian F-5's with AIM-9B's. Note how the color bands are different on this AIM-9 than the ones in the photo above.


Italy first received the AIM-9B in 1958 and mated them to the F-86K until receiving more Sidewinders in the early 1960's for their F-104G's. These were likely the FGW version.

An asymmetric load of one AIM-9B paired with likely an Aspide missile on an Italian F-104 

Though I don't believe the Italians used the under fuselage launchers for their AIM-9B's, you can see this F-104 has four total Sidewinders loaded

A good look at an Italian F-104 with AIM-9B

Up close with an Italian F-104's AIM-9B
Though there is no missile loaded on this Italian F-86K, you can clearly see the launcher inboard of the fuel tank where it would be stationed

Italian Fiat G.91 with AIM-9B's

Fiat G.91 with AIM-9B's


Japan, like seemingly every other country, loaded the AIM-9B on their F-104's after receiving the missile in 1959. They also appeared on their F-86F's.

A colorful Japanese F-104 with an equally colorful fuselage mounted AIM-9B. The F-104 in the background is also carrying an AIM-9B

An AIM-9B on a taxiing Japanese F-104


Though Morocco allegedly received the AIM-9B in 1976 for their F-5A's, I have no picture evidence as yet.


The Netherlands acquired the AIM-9B starting in 1958 and used it on a multitude of aircraft including the F-86K, Hunter, Sea Hawk and F-104.

F-86K with AIM-9B

You can just barely see the seeker of this AIM-9B mounted to a Dutch F-86K

An F-86K of the Netherlands loaded with an AIM-9B

Finally a better look at the AIM-9B mounted to a Dutch F-86K

Two AIM-9B's mounted to this Dutch F-104
In flight Dutch F-104 with AIM-9B
AIM-9B on a Dutch F-104

A Dutch Hunter with an AIM-9B

A Sea Hawk from the Netherlands cruises with an AIM-9B

Dutch Sea Hawk carrier ops with an AIM-9B


Like most of its Western European counterparts, Norway received the AIM-9B in the late 1950's and used them on the F-86 and F-104.

Norwegian F-104 with fuselage mounted AIM-9B

Norwegian F-104 armed with an AIM-9B intercepting a Soviet aircraft

Two AIM-9B's mounted on the wings of a Norwegian F-104
This Norwegian F-86K has launchers for AIM-9B's


 Pakistan used the AIM-9B on the F-86, F-104 and F-6 after receiving them in the late 1950's and early 1960's.

Pakistani F-86 with dual AIM-9B's

Pakistani F-104 with AIM-9B

Pakistani F-6 with AIM-9B

Pakistani F-6 with AIM-9B


The Philippines probably received some second hand AIM-9B's starting in 1963 and used them on their F-86's and F-5's.

AIM-9B's mounted on Philippine Air Force F-86's

Philappine Air Force F-5 with an orange AIM-9B

These AIM-9B's mounted on a Philippine FA-50 are probably for demonstration only


I have no information on when Portugal received their AIM-9B's but they clearly used them on their F-86's.

Portuguese F-86 on display with an AIM-9B
Portuguese Fiat G-91 posing behind an AIM-9B

Rhodesia (Present Day Zimbabwe)

I am unaware of when the unrecognized state of Rhodesia received their AIM-9B's but apparently they were successful in mounting them to their Hawker Hunters.

Rhodesian Hunter with AIM-9B. Oddly enough, this aircraft is in South African Air Force markings though South Africa did not operate Hawker Hunters.
Rhodesian Hunter with AIM-9B

South Africa

South Africa started receiving AIM-9B's in 1956 and put them to use on their F-86's and Mirage-III's.

South African Mirage-III with an AIM-9B

South African Mirage with an AIM-9B

South Korea

In the late 1950's, South Korea started accepting AIM-9B's for use on their F-86's.

Though there are no missiles loaded on these ROKAF  F-86's, you can clearly see the launchers installed on the wings.


Sweden obtained the AIM-9B from 1959 to 1964 and redesignated it the Rb 24.

AIM-9B's on a pair of Saab 29 Tunnans

Two AIM-9B's on a Saab 32 Lansen

AIM-9B being loaded onto a Swedish Hunter

Excellent close up of two Swedish AIM-9B's

A single AIM-9B on a J-35

Swedish Hunters armed with AIM-9B's. Note the color differences between the two missiles

Noticeable color differences between all the AIM-9B's loaded on these Saab Drakens

Another pair of Drakens with AIM-9B's loaded


The Swiss received their AIM-9B's beginning in 1963 for their Hawker Hunters and Mirage-III's.

I don't like to use museum examples but these few shots were the best images of Swiss AIM-9B's I could find. Here is one on a Swiss Hunter FGA.9

A better look at the colors of a Swiss AIM-9B
An AIM-9B on a Swiss Mirage

The colors of a Swiss AIM-9B mounted to a Mirage


The first of Taiwan's AIM-9B's arrived just in time for the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1958. ROCAF F-86's would be the first aircraft to use the Sidewinder in aerial combat when on September 24, 1958, a Taiwanese fighter shot down a Chinese PLAAF MiG-15. In another ensuing dogfight, an AIM-9B struck a MiG-17 but failed to detonate and was ferried home, lodged in the fuselage, for the Soviets to study. The result was a direct copy of the Sidewinder, known as the K-13 or AA-2 Atoll.

Close up of an AIM-9B on a ROCAF F-86

Taiwanese F-86's in flight with AIM-9B's

F-100 with several AIM-9B's

F-86D with AIM-9 capable launch rail


Though Turkey supposedly got their AIM-9B's in 1958 for their F-86's and F-100's, I am unable to find any worthwhile images.

United Kingdom

The first UK jet aircraft capable of utilizing the AIM-9B was the Supermarine Scimitar which began receiving the missile in 1958.

Royal Navy Scimitar with AIM-9B

AIM-9B on a Scimitar of the Royal Navy


Though Venezuela allegedly received their Sidewinders in 1972 for use on their F-5A's, I can not find visual evidence at the moment.


I have not found any pictures of Yugoslavian aircraft carrying the AIM-9B even though they were receiving them allegedly by 1959 for use on their F-86D's.

United States

In the early 1960's, the Department of Defense required that the USAF adopt the F-4 into its service. The Air Force complied, initially borrowing their F-4B's from the Navy until they received their first production Phantoms, the F-4C, in 1964. It would not be long before the AIM-9B would find itself soaring high above the jungles of South East Asia, combating Communist forces in the skies of Vietnam.
Since the AIM-9B was jointly operated by the Air Force and Navy, a modeler can expect to see them on both services' aircraft up until about 1968. The AIM-9B's moment to shine was in Vietnam but unfortunately it did not fair that well. Having been designed to destroy less maneuverable bombers and utilized by pilots who had been trained to intercept rather than dogfight, the AIM-9B was less than satisfactory. Poor reliability of its electronics and its tendency to be fooled by other heat sources led to a wartime kill percentage of under twenty percent.
The AIM-9B's service life pretty much ended with the Vietnam War. The US Navy had already been looking for an upgrade to replace the lack luster missile, and it found its replacement in the AIM-9D. The Air Force would follow a different track, as they so often did in the 1960's, developing the AIM-9E. Both missiles will be covered in a subsequent blog post.

F2H Banshee launching with an AIM-9B

Navy F4 Skyray cruising with an AIM-9B

F9F-8T with four dark colored AIM-9B's

F3H Demon on deck with an AIM-9B

US Navy F3H Demon with a pair of AIM-9B's

F11 Tiger parked behind an impressive display of weaponry including four AIM-9B's (with two loaded on the wings). The missiles in the foreground are not live as you can tell by the lack of seeker window in the nose and absence of rollerons on the back corner of each tail fin.

F11 Tiger with AIM-9B's

Navy F11 Tiger showing off its load of four AIM-9B's. The dark color likely indicates a training round. 
F11 Tiger with AIM-9B

AIM-9B aboard a Fury. It appears to be a live round, with yellow stripes just aft of the forward canards. Note the presence of rollerons on the tail fins and a window on the seeker

A brightly colored AIM-9B training round on an FJ-3 Fury

US Navy FJ-3 Fury with a pair of AIM-9B's
Live AIM-9B's loaded on an Air Force F-100

Live AIM-9B on the wingtip of an Air Force F-104 during the Taiwan Strait Crisis. Note the seeker window, yellow explosive hazard bands behind the forward canards on the warhead section, and the rollerons on the tail fins

Two F-104's with AIM-9B's on the wingtips

AIM-9B's on another Air Force F-104

A flight of F-104's with AIM-9B's

A trailer with a pair of AIM-9B's ready to be loaded on F-104's during the Taiwan Strait Crisis

AIM-9B's on an F-104

Orange and blue training AIM-9B on an F-104
Live AIM-9B loaded on a Navy A-4

AIM-9B on an A-4
An AIM-9B accompanying a large load of bombs on an A-7 during the Vietnam War

An AIM-9B tucked away under the wing of a fully loaded A-7 during the Vietnam War
Color photo clearly showing the yellow explosive hazard rings of a live AIM-9B loaded on an F-8 during the Vietnam War. Note the cloth cover over the seeker nose

A Marine F-8 with an inert AIM-9B

F-8 flying during the Vietnam War with a live AIM-9B

Loading a live AIM-9B on an F-8 during the Vietnam War

Another good look at AIM-9B's aboard an F-8 during the Vietnam War
Great close up of Vietnam Era AIM-9B's loaded on an F-105. Note the cloth cover on the inboard missile

AIM-9B on a bomb laden Thud

AIM-9B's on a trailer waiting to be loaded on an aircraft. In the background an F-105 already has a set of Sidewinders on it. Note the red  Remove Before Flight tag wrapped around the missile body which I believe is covering the arming handle. Note the yellow nose cover as opposed to the cloth cover
A flight line full of F-5's waiting to be loaded during the Vietnam War. The trailer contains two different AIM-9 types - the B and the E, making this photo around 1968. The top most missiles with the cylindrical nose covers are AIM-9E's. The bottom missile with the round nose cover is an AIM-9B
This F-4 has two different Sidewinder types loaded - B and D. The AIM-9B is on the inboard station of each pylon

This F-4J is loaded with an AIM-9B

This F-4 has at least two AIM-9B's loaded

An AIM-9B on an F-4B Phantom, Da Nang, 1965

Robin Olds' F-4 carrying a pair of AIM-9B's

Olds walking past an AIM-9B during his pre-flight inspection. His first MiG kill was with a B model Sidewinder

This war weary F-4B has an AIM-9B, 1967

A close look at the forward section of an AIM-9B as it sits in front of an F-4 Phantom

This Phantom also has two different Sidewinder types loaded - AIM-9B and D/G/H. Again the AIM-9B is on the inboard station
F-4C in 1964 with two AIM-9B's

Let's C what's next...

The Navy developed two replacements for the AIM-9B which, not surprisingly, were the C and the previously mentioned D model. I will cover the AIM-9C in this post because it was a direct descendant of the B model and because it was so short lived. 
The AIM-9C was a semi-active radar homing version that was used exclusively on the F-8 Crusader in order to improve the aircraft's all weather capability without having to give it a new radar to allow the Crusader to carry AIM-7 Sparrows. Though it sounds like a good idea, the missile was not terribly successful and Motorola only churned out 1,000 of them from 1965 to 1967.

AIM-9B on top, D in the middle, C on the bottom
You can see by the photo how similar the AIM-9B and C were in appearance. The C was distinguishable by the larger fins and no seeker window. The B also had noticeable rings around the base of each fin, making them easy to pick out in photographs.

The AIM-9C is on the top station of this Crusader

Once again, the AIM-9C is on top

On this F-8 at China Lake, the AIM-9C is on the bottom station

Here an AIM-9C is being loaded onto an F-8 while several others wait to be mated to an aircraft
As an air-to-air missile, the AIM-9C would be relegated to obscurity but in the 1980's Motorola breathed new life into them. A total of 700 AIM-9C's were converted and upgraded to become the AGM-122 Sidearm, a small, lightweight anti-radiation missile. Being considerably smaller than a HARM, the AGM-122 could be carried on helicopters like the AH-1 Cobra and the AH-64 Apache.
It wasn't very long-lived, however, and stocks of the missile were depleted in 1990 and no further manufacture was requested.

Inert AGM-122 Sidearm on a USMC Harrier

Inert AGM-122 on an AH-1 Cobra

A Closer Look...

Here are some closer shots of the AIM-9B. The missile distinguishes itself from other AIM-9 versions by its cylindrical seeker head that does not taper toward the nose and features a large window.
They are generally gloss white from tip to tail and have two yellow bands aft of the guidance fins where the warhead section is, assuming it is a live missile. Another distinctive feature are the dark colored rubber grommets that enclose the shaft of the guidance fins you can see in the photo below.

The Remove Before Flight streamer is covering the arming key

Not to be mistaken with...

As pointed out earlier by the Atoll missile, the AIM-9B can be mistaken for other ordnance if you are not careful. For instance, the Rafael Shafrir II built by Israel looks almost identical at a glance, as you can see with these Argentine examples below. Argentina used the Shafrir during the Falklands War.

AIM-9B on Argentine A-4

Under more scrutiny, you can see that the Shafrir has a larger diameter and a smaller seeker window than the AIM-9B.

As mentioned previously, the Soviets got their hands on an AIM-9B and reverse engineered it to produce the K-13, otherwise known as the R-3 or the AA-2 Atoll.

The Soviet built K-13/R-3/AA-2 Atoll is a copy of the AIM-9B. You can see the similarity in this photo of a trailer full of Syrian Atolls.

An Egyptian with a K-13

MiG-21 with an Atoll. Its worthwhile to note that generally speaking the Atoll uses a red nose cover while the AIM-9B uses a yellow one

The Chinese created their own copy, calling it the PL-2. This is a PL-2B

In Scale

The AIM-9B is available in 1/72, 1/48 and 1/32 from Eduard Model Accessories.

Thanks for reading the first installment of our examination of the AIM-9 Sidewinder. I hope it was at least a little informative. If you have any photographs of AIM-9B's you'd like to share, by all means include them in the comments below. Keep watching this space for the next post!

**None of these photos are mine. I am using them for discussion and reference purposes only!** Much of the information regarding AIM-9B users I obtained from this database:
I do not guarantee that the information provided here is complete or one hundred percent accurate but it did provide me with a base to start locating photographs. 


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  2. the AIM-9B entered service with Spain in October 1960 aboard the F-86F. It was the sile ahort range air conbat missile until 1975 when Philco Ford received a contract to upgrade all the existing missiles to AIM-9J-1.
    The French AF received the AIM-9B in the early 60s and these were in use until replaced by the Matra Magic from 1975. Aeronavale Bravos served longer aboard the F-8 as the Magic took some further time to be integrated into the Crusader