Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sidewinder Overview Part III: AIM-9E

The AIM-9 Sidewinder is a common missile that can be found on almost any Western jet aircraft from the late 1950's to today. That it is found so regularly on many subjects and the fact that it has been produced in several different variants can lead to some confusion for us modelers. These posts are meant to reduce the confusion and hopefully ensure you get the right missile on the right aircraft. If you're just joining this study, I suggest checking out my previous posts covering the AIM-9B and AIM-9D/G/H.


In the late 1960's, the United States was elbow deep in South East Asia and the US Air Force was struggling in air-to-air combat with the resources they had against North Vietnamese MiGs. The Navy had recognized the need to improve upon the disappointing performance of the AIM-9B and conjured up the AIM-9D. Though the Navy's new missile would prove more successful, the Air Force never made use of it and ventured into their own development program.
What came out of it was the AIM-9E, an improved version of the B in that it had larger canards, better aerodynamics, and an upgraded rocket motor. Performance was increased with a higher tracking rate and thermoelectric cooling kept the seeker from overheating. The AIM-9E is differentiated from the AIM-9B by the longer, conical seeker head.
The AIM-9E was introduced to the operational Air Force in 1967 and it soon saw use over Vietnam, accounting for six MiG-21 kills, fired from F-4D and F-4E fighter aircraft.

Two AIM-9E's on an F-4 Phantom in South East Asia.

A-7D armed with an AIM-9E at Korat AB, Thailand.

Air crew standing in front of their F-4 Phantom loaded with a pair of AIM-9E's in South East Asia. Note the two yellow bands aft of the seeker head denoting the high explosive hazard of the warhead and the brown band further aft denoting the low explosive hazard of the rocket motor.

F-4E with a full load of AIM-9E's over South East Asia. Notice the positions and color of the bands on these missiles. Two yellow bands near the seeker indicating the warhead, and a single black band just aft. In the modern Air Force, a brown band is used to indicate the low explosive hazard of the rocket motor. I can only assume the black band here indicates the same.

This dude is obscuring the shot of an AIM-9E on this F-4 Phantom parked at Udorn AB, Thailand. You can see another AIM-9E on the right wing station as well.

Another Udorn F-4 Phantom with a full load of AIM-9E's. 

An F-4 Phantom of the Oregon Air National Guard out of Kingsley Field carrying one Captive Air Training Missile (CATM) AIM-9E.

F-104 sporting an inert, as indicated by the blue body, AIM-9E.
124th TFS A-7 from the Iowa ANG carrying a CATM AIM-9E.

An A-7 of the Arizona ANG loaded with an AIM-9E.

A-7D based at Davis-Monthan AFB with an inert (most likely a load crew trainer) AIM-9E.
USAF aggressors employed the CATM AIM-9E regularly as you can see on this F-5E. This one is all white except for the blue bands around the missile body.

Aggressor with CATM AIM-9E.

Aggressor with CATM AIM-9E's.

A flight of USAF aggressor F-5E's with CATM AIM-9E's.

Beyond the USAF...

Finding examples of the AIM-9E was difficult enough just for its use with the Air Force let alone with foreign air forces. It had a relatively short lifespan, one reason being that it still had to be fired at the rear quarter of the target being engaged. It accounted for very few kills in the Vietnam War and would soon give way to the first true dogfight version of the Sidewinder, the AIM-9J.  
Though the USAF would show the AIM-9E the door by the early 1970's, a few other countries employed it.

South Korean F-5's carrying AIM-9E's. The yellow bands near the seeker denote the live explosive in the warhead, with the black band just aft.

Another South Korean F-5 with live AIM-9E's.

A Mexican Air Force AIM-9E on an F-5. This is inert, likely a load crew trainer. Note there are no rollerons on the tail fins.

AIM-9E's on a Swiss F-5.

A Closer Look...

A museum example. This appears to be a CATM AIM-9E. In this case, there is no rocket motor or warhead but the seeker would still function allowing the pilot to train with the missile during mock dogfights. The umbilical between the two forward fins connects to the launcher and is the interface between the aircraft and missile prior to launch. The metallic wedges on the rear fins are called rollerons and help stabilize the missile in flight.

Another museum example mounted on an F-4. This has a more modern look, uncharacteristic of the AIM-9E in that there is only a single yellow band for the high explosive warhead, rather than two. Note there are no rollerons on the rear fins.

What You Need to Know...

The AIM-9E was used for a short period of time, from roughly 1967 to the mid 1970's, and saw limited action in the Vietnam War.
In US service, the missile was only used by the United States Air Force. 
The live AIM-9E had a white body and seeker head. The seeker was never painted another color, nor was it anodized as far as I can tell. An inert AIM-9E could have a completely blue body with a white seeker and fins, or a light gray body with a single blue band.

Where to Source AIM-9E's...

As can be expected, Eduard Model Accessories has the AIM-9E covered in 1/48 and 1/72.

And though I have yet to hear anything about them, Armory Models Group has two sets of AIM-9E's in 1/48 - one for F-4 Phantoms and another with adapters for F-105's.

Up Next...

The US Navy would spend the late 1960's and early 1970's honing the AIM-9D into the AIM-9G and H. In the mean time, the US Air Force would improve upon their AIM-9 with partial solid state electronics and enhanced agility, giving them a missile with increased lethality in the air-to-air arena. This Sidewinder would be known as the AIM-9J.