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F-16's first AIM-9X Sidewinder launch

April 19, 2004 (by Lieven Dewitte) - A test team from the Global Power Fighters Combined Test Force fired the newest version of the Sidewinder, the AIM-9X, for the first time from an F-16 Fighting Falcon on April 9th.

F-16C block 42 #88445 from the 416th Flight Test Squadron flies near China Lake Naval Air Weapons Center, Calif., July 8 during a successful AIM-9X test. The Global Power Fighters Combined Test Force here fired the AIM-9X, marking the variant's first guided launch from the aircraft. [USAF photo by Tom Reynolds ]

The AIM-9X is a supersonic, heat-seeking, air-to-air missile that can be fired day or night. Before this, the AIM-9X had been fired only from F-15 Eagles and U.S. Navy F-18 Hornets.

The test mission is part of the F-16 M4+ test project currently going on at Edwards AFB, CA. The project tests an improved avionics system that will be used to upgrade about 600 active-duty F-16 aircraft.

This was the first firing in a series of tests designed to clear the new variant for use on the F-16. The initial flights are designed to validate the effects predicted by its contracted developer.

The team's first two firings are unguided, and the flight profiles will build up to three guided firings against subscale drones.

In its first test, after clearing the aircraft, the missile was programmed to perform a high-G dive into the ground. Maj. Ray Toth, 416th FLTS test pilot, was at the controls for the Sidewinder's first release.

"The test went as planned, and there were no surprises," said Major Toth, who fired the missile over a test range at nearby China Lake Naval Air Weapons Center.

The team also evaluated how the new Sidewinder variant works with the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System.

The $275,000 missile might have a huge impact on warfighter tactics and change the face of aerial combat.

Paired with the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System, the AIM-9X will be a lethal combination for pilots who find themselves in visual engagements. The HMCS' visor displays key data to the pilot and links the aircraft's sensors and weapons. This enables the pilot to aim and shoot the missile simply by looking in the direction of his target. Pilots won't have to use as much dog fighting and turning and maneuvering in order to put the aircraft in a lethal launch acceptability region with the missile.

The time it takes to attack and kill an enemy aircraft will also be reduced by the HMCS/AIM-9X combination which means the pilot is less vulnerable than before. Navy Captain Scott Stewart, Navy program manager for air-to-air missiles even described the AIM-9X as "a sidewinder on steroids".

With the initial operational shot behind them, the 53rd WEG will continue to evaluate the AIM-9X as part of its WSEP, known as Combat Archer.

The latest variant has the same rocket motor and warhead as the AIM-9M, which is the most current operational variant of the missile. However, the AIM-9X has major changes from previous versions including increased flight performance.

The test team at Edwards will continue the F-16 flight tests for the AIM-9X beginning with the next missile shot planned for late April.

The Sidewinder was originally developed by the Navy for fleet air defense and was later adapted by the Air Force for use on fighter aircraft. Early versions of the missile were used in the Vietnam War.

The first operational shot of the AIM-9X was taken by an F-15C pilot during an air-to-air Weapons System Evaluation Program mission at Tyndall AFB, Fla., March 17th 2004. It was the 67th AIM-9X launch, with the previous 66 conducted by test aircraft and test pilots. The missile achieved initial operational capability in November 2003.