Out of the aviation history books

A Chinese-language article provides interesting information about the first use in combat of the AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile, over the Taiwan Strait in 1958.

Thanks to Google Translate, we can read the story (with some difficulty).  Here’s an excerpt.

The US government, after learning that China was prepared to further threaten the use of force against Taiwan, in August 1958 under the “Star Program” codenamed a group of short-range thermal-guided air-to-air missiles, still classified as first-hand secrets, Later officially numbered as AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, quietly arrived in Hsinchu by air, and more generous authorized base commanders can use the appropriate conditions.

. . .

12th Squadron Reconnaissance Squadron Commander Yang Shikui Major, at 9:45 on September 24 driving RF-84 camera from Taoyuan, the target is Wenzhou and other regions. He was one of nine reconnaissance aircraft. As from the end of July, Taiwan’s reconnaissance aircraft on several continents of the southeast coast of the detective, the relative, the increasing frequency of Chinese fighter interceptor. Therefore, the Air Force Combat Command judged that in today’s wonders, the People’s Liberation Army will be fully intercepted into the airspace of the reconnaissance aircraft.

In order to make the reconnaissance pilot has the greatest tactical use of flexibility, the Wenzhou Bay detective task is to carry out single plane, at the same time, the first 11 Hsinchu flight base battalion, led by the captain personally, sent F-86 “knife” Fighter planes to cover 18. With 18 to cover a way, on the target area for strong surveillance operations.

. . .

All the pilots have been prepared to face the rear occupying attacks of the PLA MiG-17 fighters, and both are full of alert. Because MiG-17 fighter performance is significantly better than the F-86F fighters, if not the general manager of cold Pei sentence: “hold the formation!” At that time most likely there will be post-3-4, will take Dive from the way to avoid being raided.

However, the team leader based on a number of considerations, seeing the left turn of the four MiG17, in order to be more careful, the first formation of a long machine Li Shuyuan immediately break the radio “only Shoufa” requirement, asked the second formation machine to turn left, 2 formation almost everyone at the same time press the button to speak loudly replied: “The left is the MiG machine!”

Because the radio was more old-fashioned, the same time there will be more than send people to interfere, so listen to Li Shuyuan’s ears is a mess, so again in the radio shouting: “Leader answer! Tang Jiemin immediately called out: “The left is the MiG machine! Do not play will be they ran!”

Li Shuyuan led the first formation, in determining the batch is indeed the PLA MiG17 fighter, but also to see this by the four MiG17 fleet, turned right and then turned back to my first formation of the right side!

Chinese fighters of this illogical action, for a moment the national army pilots have doubts, this will openly leave the tail to the enemy to fight the way, obviously the PLA to lure the enemy tactics, so Li Shuyuan once again to radio warfare: “low there No radar intelligence (radar intelligence)? “War is categorical answer:” No! “

Li Shuyuan saw this opportunity, that “machine” can not be lost, immediately led the first formation machine right to track, and turn to about 70 degrees (East East) direction, from the MiG17 fighter about 1 million feet.

The first formation aircraft to push the nose to get the speed, immediately pulled to 39,000 feet, and then aligned MiG17 fighters, by the 1,3 machine Li Shuyuan, Qian Yiqiang the launch of a missile, see MiG17 fighter 2 Frame explosion fall.

At this moment, at 10:38 on September 24, 1958, the first time in the history of air combat with a missile shot down enemy aircraft records, by the ROC Air Force 44th squadron Li Shuyuan wrote.

There’s more at the link, including more photographs.

During the same engagement, one of the Sidewinders hit a Chinese fighter jet, embedding itself in the fuselage, but did not explode.  The pilot made it back to base, from where the missile was sent to the Soviet Union for analysis.  It gave a jump-start to Soviet air-to-air missile capabilities, and was ‘cloned’ into the K-13 missile.

I have a personal interest in the subject.  South Africa bought early-model AIM-9B’s to equip its Canadair Sabre Mk. 6 fighter aircraft.  It ‘cloned’ the first-generation AIM-9B version into the ‘Voorslag’ (‘Whiplash’) missile, which was an engineering exercise designed to build expertise in this technology.  It was never used in combat.  One of them is shown below.

Along with information gleaned from the similar French Matra R-550 Magic missile, the project formed the basis for South Africa’s V-3 Kukri missile, shown below, which was itself further developed over the years.

I had some contact with the development team for the the V-3 series of missiles.  It was an interesting time.

It’s strange to think that the same basic Sidewinder missile used almost 60 years ago is still in front-line service, albeit with greatly updated and more advanced electronics, motor, etc.  The first AIM-9 model to enter service had a range of only about 2 nautical miles, and carried a 10-pound warhead.  Its infra-red sensor could only home onto a target from the rear aspect (i.e. behind the enemy aircraft, where the engine exhaust was hottest and most visible).  Today’s fourth-generation AIM-9X has a range more than ten times as great, a warhead more than twice as large (and much more efficient), and can accelerate much faster to a much higher top speed.  It’s also all-aspect-ratio (i.e. it can home onto a target from any angle, not just from astern).

You’ll find an informative summary of the missile’s development and its various versions here.



  1. When I was learning industrial control systems in college, the prof explained the AIM9 series got the name 'Sidewinder' due to the simple controls that were available at the time. I don't know if he worked on those or not. We had several prof's that were involved in military projects.

    We called them bang-bang controls. If it needed to go left, bang!, the controls went full left. When it was on target, the controls didn't have a neutral position, so they fluttered between full left and full right, giving it a corkscrew motion.

    I'd be interested to know if he was correct! Neat story.

  2. @Anonymous: No, that's not the case. According to the Wikipedia article on the missile: "The name Sidewinder was selected in 1950 and is the common name of Crotalus cerastes, a venomous rattlesnake, which uses infrared sensory organs to hunt warm-blooded prey."

  3. I didn't really find the write-up any harder to read than the average John C. Wright blog post. I like Mr. Wright a lot, & he's much more educated than I, but he never, ever edits his posts, so that at time they're well-nigh unreadable. Still, one struggles through.
    Informative post, Peter, and thanks!
    –Tennessee Budd

  4. "It's strange to think that the same basic Sidewinder missile used almost 60 years ago is still in front-line service,"

    This is my Grandfather's axe, untouched, except my fater replaced the handle and I replaced the head

    the only thing that is the same on the sidewinder is the name, shape and connectors.

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