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No Escape: The AIM-9 Sidewinder Air-to-Air Missile

Written by on Thursday, March 8th, 2012

The AIM-9 Sidewinder is the most widespread missile in the western hemisphere, and it is in fact so popular that many civilians recognize the name. But how did a single missile become the go-to choice for air-to-air weaponry, especially when aircraft could easily be designed to accommodate a wide range of missiles?

The best place to start is the beginning, in the mid 1940s, when engineers first began developing the Sidewinder. These designers started with the basic design of a popular German surface-to-air missile, the Enzian, but they made dramatic improvements. The Enzian simply locked onto its target and pursued a straight line to the target. As a result, the Enzian usually ended up behind the target and attempted to chase it down.

Revolutionary mechanics in the Sidewinder allowed a much more mathematically sound method of pursuing a targets. Rather than aiming the front of the missile at the target, the Sidewinder calculated its trajectory based on the change of movement in its target. Basically, this advancement allowed the sidewinder to lead the target and fly towards where the target will be as opposed to where it was. As a result, the Sidewinder is a much more accurate cialis online cheap missile that can hit its target much sooner than the Enzian.

Based on the success of the Sidewinder’s performance, the USAF adopted the Sidewinder and new variants were made to specialize in air-to-air combat. Perhaps the most important upgrade was with the AIM-9L, which was the first variant that could be fired directly at oncoming targets. The AIM-9L proved to be extremely effective, largely because nobody had developed techniques to evade head-on missile attacks.

The newest variant, the AIM-9X, is faster, stealthier, and more accurate than any of its predecessors. A state-of-the-art joint helmet mounted cueing system allows a pilot to lock a Sidewinder onto a target merely by looking at enemy aircraft. The AIM-9X can even locate and lock onto a target after it has been fired, which makes it one of the most reliable missiles available.

And at $85,000 per missile, Sidewinders are relatively cheap. Dozens of nations have purchased Sidewinder missiles, and throughout its history missiles from the Sidewinder family have accumulated an estimated 270 kills. What does all of this mean? One very simple fact: no pilot on earth wants to try his luck against an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile.


If you want advice about the world of military aviation, there’s no better people to turn to than men and women who have sat in the cockpit and flown some of the world’s most advanced aircraft. With over 50 current and ex-warfighters on call, Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. can give you access to up-to-date, first-hand technical and tactical expertise.

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