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Air-to-Air Missiles

Air-to-air missiles, known to the military as Air-Interceptor Missiles (AIM), became an important part of fighter combat after World War II. The U.S. military has been developing and refining them since 1946. The earliest jet fighters carried the AIM-4 Falcon, modern fighters including the F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, and F/A-18 Hornet typically use the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM. Combat UAVs such as the MQ-9 Reaper also carry the AIM-9 Sidewinder. Air-to-air missiles have played a key role in allowing the U.S. military to establish and maintain air superiority in all major conflicts since World War II.

Aviation ordnancemen move a cart of AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missiles to waiting F/A-18C Hornet aircraft on the flight deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), 5 May 1999
Aviation ordnancemen move a cart of AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missiles to waiting F/A-18C Hornet aircraft on the flight deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), 5 May 1999.

Today in WW II: 6 Oct 1939 In a Reichstag speech, Adolf Hitler reveals plans for a Jewish enclave in Poland for millions of Jews from Germany, Poland and other lands, a plan understood as a huge concentration camp.  More 
6 Oct 1943 More than four hundred rabbis arrive in Washington, DC to plead for US government action to save Jews from Hitler; Roosevelt administration unresponsive.
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Operational Factors of Air-to-Air Missiles

USAF MAJ Marc Himelhoch, 77th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Wing, pilots an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft during Operation Iron Thunder, near Shaw AFB, SC.  The Falcon has a weapons compliment of the Aim-7 Sparrow under each wing and the AIM-9 Sidewinder under the left wing
USAF MAJ Marc Himelhoch, 77th Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Wing, pilots an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft during Operation Iron Thunder, near Shaw AFB, SC. The Falcon has a weapons compliment of the Aim-7 Sparrow under each wing and the AIM-9 Sidewinder under the left wing.

An air-to-air missile is a weapon fired by one aircraft against another aircraft while both are in the air. Some air-to-air missiles, such as the AIM-4 Falcon, have also been used experimentally against ground targets.

Missiles evolved along three parallel tracks: guidance systems, range, and warheads. The first air-to-air missile, the AIM-4 Falcon, had limited range and lethality, and could only be used in rear-aspect engagements. The AIM-120 AMRAAM, by contrast, is a fire-and-forget missile that can be launched from a safe distance regardless of aspect.

The goal of air-to-air missiles is to allow fighters and interceptors to destroy enemy aircraft before they can engage friendly forces, whether airborne or on the ground. Missiles such as the AIM-9 and AIM-120 have fulfilled their mission goals so well that they are being added to the latest jet fighters and combat drones.

Chart of Air-to-Air Missiles

In this chart of U.S. military air-to-air missiles, click on the photo link to go to the page of photos and information for the missile.

MissileDescriptionPhoto Link
AIM-4 AIM-4 Falcon Radar-guided short-range missile AIM-4 Falcon Radar-guided short-range missile
AIM-7 AIM-7 Sparrow Semi-active radar-guided medium-range missile AIM-7 Sparrow Semi-active radar-guided medium-range missile
AIM-9 AIM-9 Sidewinder Radar-guided short-range missile AIM-9 Sidewinder Radar-guided short-range missile
AIM-54 AIM-54 Phoenix Radar-guided long-range missile AIM-54 Phoenix Radar-guided long-range missile
AIM-120 AIM-120 AMRAAM Radar-guided, medium-range missile AIM-120 AMRAAM Radar-guided, medium-range missile

Recommended Books about Military Air-to-Air Missiles

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