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56 th VFW Training Squadron Fighter Academics. Part 1 Air Combat Prep Lesson 2 Air to Air Weapons.

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56th VFW Training Squadron

Fighter Academics

Part 1Air Combat Prep

Lesson 2

Air to Air Weapons


The following is a very basic overview of the air to air weapons you’ll primarily use in Falcon 4.0. A-A missiles and guns will be gone over in greater detail later on in the course. After a definition of some of the terms we’ll be using, we’ll start off by discussing the general types of missiles currently in use, then several specific missile models, and lastly we’ll take a look at the gun/cannon we use on the Viper.

Knowing your weapons and their capabilities and limitations is critical to your ability to not only survive, but to dominate in the air combat arena. Study the weapons information provided in this course with the goal being total understanding and knowledge of both your own and potential enemies weapons.


Terms & Definitions

Gimble :The term Gimble is used to describe the range of motion up and down, left & right of a radar antenna or missile seeker head. This is stated in degrees off boresight.

Boresight/Off-Boresight :Boresight is an imaginary line straight ahead of your radar, targeting pod or weapons seeker head. For example the AN/APG-68 has a 60 degree off-boresight capability which translates into 120 degrees total area coverage. That’s 60 degrees each side and up and down from the “centerline” or boresight. In contrast the AIM-9M seeker head has a 35 degree off boresight capability. This means the seeker head can swivel, or Gimble, up to 35 degrees in any given direction.

All Aspect :Weapon can engage effectively at any aspect from target. In other words shooting from the rear, side, above, below or head on.

Rear Aspect :In regards to Air to air weapons…. A rear aspect weapon can only engage effectively from the rear quadrant of the target.

WVR:Within Visual Range

BVR:Beyond Visual Range


General Missile Types

Infra-Red (IR) homing :IR missiles home on heat sources visible in the infra-red spectrum. Engine and exhaust heat and thermal warming (particularly leading edges) of airframes due to speed can all be sources of heat that IR missiles can guide on depending on seeker type and sensitivity.Semi Active Radar Homing (SARH) :SARH (pronounced Sarah) missiles use reflected energy from the launching aircrafts radar to guide on the target. Radar lock by the launching aircraft needs to be maintained all the way to missile impact. If radar lock is lost the missile will lose guidance and go mad-dog, almost certainly missing the target and exploding harmlessly in empty airspace. The newest models of the AIM-7 Sparrow have the ability to “reconnect” with the launching aircraft and reacquire target telemetry, depending on the point that lock was lost. As far as I know this is not implemented in any version of Falcon 4.0.Active Radar Homing (ARH) missiles : ARH missiles use the launching aircraft and their own onboard radar to guide to target. When launched at medium to long range the ARH missile will initially use the launching aircrafts radar to guide on the target. Once within range the missile turns on it’s own onboard radar and uses it to guide on the target for the rest of it’s flight to impact. This is known as Pitbull. Once the missile go’s pitbull the launching aircraft can deselect the original target and acquire a new one to engage and fire on.


Air to Air Missiles

AIM-9 Sidewinder “Heater”

- AIM-9M

- AIM-9X

- AIM-9P

AIM-120 AMRAAM “Slammer”

AIM-7 Sparrow


The AIM-9 family of missiles is the worlds most successful missile to date. The Sidewinder has been in constant use by the USA and many other countries for more than 50 years, entering service with the U.S. Navy in 1956. On 24 September 1958 the Sidewinder achieved the worlds first ever successful use of Air to Air guided missiles, when Taiwanese F-86Fs shot down Communist Chinese MiG-15s using AIM-9Bs supplied by the U.S. Navy. To date more than 270 kills world wide have been made using various AIM-9 models.



The AIM-9M is a supersonic, WVR, air-to-air, IR guided missile. Commonly referred to as “Heater” or “Winder”, the AIM-9M is a true fire and forget missile. In other words immediately after launch the missile guides to the target on it’s own, homing on the targets IR (heat) signature, and requiring no further support from the launching aircraft. The missile interfaces with the aircraft through the missile launcher using a forward umbilical cable, a mid-body umbilical connector and three missile hangars. The AIM-9M has three basic phases of operation: captive flight, launch, and free flight.

The AIM-9M is an all aspect weapon capable of tracking and engaging targets at any angle from the launching aircraft. Typical head on engagement maximum launch range is around 3-4 miles, although under perfect conditions 8 -10 mile shots are possible….just very unlikely. For tail chase shots, maximum launch range is usually around 1.5 – 2.5 miles.

The excellent seeker sensitivity of the AIM-9M seeker head is possible in large part due to the use of Argon gas to keep it cool. USAF AIM-9M’s have an onboard (the missile) supply of Argon sufficient to last around 90 minutes. If cooling is not enabled, or the supply of Argon is depleted, the missile is practically useless.


The AIM-9M has an off boresight or gimble of approx 35 degrees. Additional improvements over older rear aspect models of the AIM-9 include; an AOTD (Active Optical Target Detector) laser proximity fuze, and an improved 9.4 kg (20.8 lb) WDU-17/B annular blast-fragmentation warhead. When any AIM-9 or other IR missile is fired FOX 2 is called on comms.

In Operation Desert Storm in 1991, 13 out of 40 total air-to-air kills were attributed to the Sidewinder, all of which were probably AIM-9M missiles.



The newest generation of Sidewinder, the AIM-9X is a high off-boresight capable, short range, all aspect, IR missile. Boasting an amazing 90 degree off-boresight capability, thrust vectoring and improved aerodynamics, the AIM-9X is a truly terrifying missile. It shares much in common with the AIM-9M. Same warhead, same rocket motor same AOTD. However, the AIM-9X expands the capabilities of the AIM-9M with a new seeker imaging infra-red focal plane array, a high performance airframe, and a new signal processor for the seeker/sensor. In Falcon the AIM-9X is cooled like the AIM-9M and shares the same effective ranges.



Even though the USAF no longer uses the AIM-9P, I’ve included it because many virtual fighter pilots like to set up dogfights using it, and you’ll need to know the intricacies of this classic Sidewinder to employ it properly.

The AIM-9P is a supersonic, WVR, air-to-air, IR guided missile. This missile is rear aspect capable only. You’ll need to manuever to the rear of any targets you wish to engage. Typical maximum range employment from the rear quarter is similar to the AIM-9M. This missile is cooled electrically and has no need (or option) to be actively switched to a cool down mode. Be aware of the fact that the AIM-9P’s seeker head IS NOT as sensitive as the –M or –X. The AIM-9P is also much more susceptible to countermeasures such as flares and can be ditched quite easily if it’s launch is detected and acted on quickly.



There’s a few things you’ll need to remember when employing the AIM-9.

1) To successfully fire on and hit a target you need to be both IN RANGE and have GOOD TONE. There will be many times when you’ll be in range but without tone. Similarly there will be times when you have great tone and you’re out of range. Remember to crosscheck to ensure you have both before you fire!

2) The AIM-9M and P have a 35 degree off-boresight capability. Your radar has a 60 degree capability. IF you are in range and do not have good tone check to make sure that you are not exceeding the missiles gimble limits by being to far left, right, up, or down from the target. If you are, get more nose on to him and listen for tone.

3) If you are using the AIM-9M or X, find you do not have good tone, and have ensured you are not exceeding the missiles gimble limits….check and make sure you have the missile cooled down. Selecting dogfight will cool the missile automatically. This will take a few seconds and then you’ll get good tone.

4) The AIM-9X has a 90 degree off-boresight capability. This exceeds that of your radar. Taking advantage of the AIM-9X’s extreme gimble capabilities and making 90 degree off-boresight shots using the Helmet Mounted Sight, will be gone over later in the course.



5) The AIM-9 missile guides on heat or IR signiture. Once launched the missile has no way of discrimanting between friendly or bandit aircraft. If there are friendly aircraft in the immediate vicinity of the intended target be cautious when firing and aware of the fact that the missile could very well track on a friendly aircraft in between you and the target or in the same araea as the target. After launch the missile will guide on heat source and it’s possible for it to track on a friendly vs. the target you actually fired on.


The AIM-120 AMRAAM is a supersonic, BVR capable, air-to-air, ARH guided missile. Commonly referred to as the “Slammer”, AIM-120 has an all-weather, beyond-visual-range capability. AMRAAM serves as a follow-on to the AIM-7 Sparrow missile series. It is faster, smaller, and lighter, and has improved capabilities against low-altitude targets. It also incorporates an active radar in conjunction with an inertial reference unit and micro-computer system enabling the missile to keep accurate track of target location, as well as guiding on the target on it’s own when within range of it’s own onboard radar unit. This makes the missile less dependent upon the fire-control system of the aircraft. The AIM-120 uses two-stage guidance when fired at long range. The aircraft passes data to the missile just before launch, giving it information about the location of the target aircraft from the launch point and its direction and speed.


The missile uses this information to fly on an interception course to the target using its built in inertialnavigation system (INS). This information is obtained using the launching aircraft's radar. If the firing aircraft or surrogate continues to track the target, periodic updates are sent to the missile telling it of any changes in the target's direction and speed, allowing it to adjust its course so that it is able to close to self-homing distance while keeping the target aircraft in the basket in which it will be able to find it. Even if lock is lost the missile will guide to the last projected position of the target and turn on it’s own radar and begin to search.

Once the missile closes in on the target and is within it’s onboard radars range, the active radar guides it to intercept. This feature, called "fire and forget," frees the pilot from the need to continuously illuminate the missile's target with a radar lock, enabling the pilot to aim and fire several missiles simultaneously at multiple targets and perform evasive maneuvers while the missiles guide themselves to the targets.

After the missile has closed to self-homing distance, it turns on its active radar seeker and searches for the target aircraft. If the target is in or near the expected location, the missile will find it and guide itself to the target from this point. If the missile is fired at short range (typically, visual range), it can use its active seeker just after launch, making the missile truly fire-and-forget. At the point where an AMRAAM switches to autonomous self-guidance, the NATO brevity word "pitbull" would be called out on the radio to inform other pilots, just as "Fox Three" would be called out upon launch.


The AIM-120 is an all aspect weapon capable of tracking and engaging targets at any angle from the launching aircraft. Typical head on engagement maximum launch range is around 18-20 miles, although under perfect conditions 28 - 34 mile shots are possible….just very unlikely. For typical tail chase shots, maximum launch range is usually around 4 – 6 miles.



The AIM-120 has the ability to self guide on targets using it’s own onboard radar, when it’s within range to do so. This gives you the ability to deselect once the missile is pit bull and target another bandit.

This is a fantastic feature, but be aware that, once the missile does go Pitbull, turning on it’s own radar in the vicinity of the projected location of the target, it will go after the first target it picks up. The missile doesn’t know bandit from friendly. If there are friendlies in close proximity to the original target when this happens they could very well end up being targeted and engaged. Use caution when engaging and firing and ensure no friendlies will be in danger of possibly being hit by accident.


AIM-7 Sparrow

While not carried by the more modern versions of the Viper, I’ve included the Aim-7 here in case you ever fly any aircraft that do carry this missile, or perhaps indulge in flying historical campaigns where the Sparrow is the main BVR missile for US and allied aircraft.

The AIM-7 as modeled in Falcon 4.0 is an all weather, all aspect, medium range, BVR capable, Air to Air, SARH guided missile. The AIM-7M, is 3.66 m long, has a body diameter of 203 mm, a wing span of 1.02 m, weighs 231 kg and has a 40 kg HE focused blast/fragmentation warhead (WDU-27/B assembly). The AIM-7M has an inverse monopulse semi-active seeker with digital processing. This improves the missile's performance under heavy ECM and weather conditions. This model also has the advantage of an active radar fuse, which together with the built-in test system has provided a more reliable missile, capable of attacking low-flying aircraft targets.


The Sparrow missiles use solid-propellant motors, either the Alliant Techsystems Mk 58 or the Aerojet Mk 65. ATK's Mk 58 solid rocket motor is the current production unit. The rocket provides a boost-sustain flight profile giving the missile a maximum range of 20.7 mi (33.3 km) when fired at high altitude against high speed, head-on targets. At low altitudes this reduces to around 11.5 mi (18.5 km) maximum. Tail chase shots at low altitude are usually between 3.5 - 5.75 mi (5.5 - 9.2 km) maximum at low level, increasing to 8 - 10.4 mi (13 - 16.7km) at high altitude.


The AIM-7M is a SARAH missile requiring that the target must be locked/illuminated by the launching aircrafts radar until missile impact. If lock is broken before impact the missile will go mad dog and almost certainly blow up harmlessly in empty airspace.

When the AIM-7 or any other SARH missile is fired FOX 1 is called out on comms.


The Cannon is my overall favorite A-A weapon. The M61A1 carried by the F-16 and all other american fighters, is a 20 mm, six-barreled, Gatling type cannon, with a rotary action powered from the aircraft's hydraulic or electrical supply. The multi-barreled design gives long weapon life by reducing heating and barrel erosion. The standard M61A1 cannon is 6’ (1.83 m) long, has a maximum diameter of 13.5” (343 mm), and weighs 252 lb (114.5 kg) of which 119 lb (54 kg) are the six 4’10” (1.52 m) long barrels. A typical installation with one cannon and 500 rounds of ammunition weighs about 432 lb (196 kg.) The lightweight M61A2 is an M61A1 reduced to 205 lb (93 kg), saving 47 lb.


Ammunition Drum

Gun Assembly

The Vulcan family of cannon fires standard 20 mm ammunition including High Explosive (HE), High-Explosive Incendiary (HEI), and Armor-Piercing Incendiary (API) rounds. The main feature of the Vulcan family of cannon is their rate of fire, which is 6,000 rds/min in the Viper. That’s 100 rounds a second gentlemen. The muzzle velocity is around 3,380 ft/s (1030 m/s) and the time to maximum rate of fire for all three cannon is 0.3 seconds, with a stopping time of 0.5 seconds. We carry a standard loadout of 510 rounds.

In the F-16 the Vulcan is boresighted to six milliradians. This means that at 1,000 feet range 80% of the shells fired will fall within a six foot diameter circle. Basically this is a built in “shotgun” type of effect. At 100 rounds a second the Vulcan will literally saw an aircraft in half in no time. Unfortunately in F4 you typically have to score significantly more hits than you would in real life to bring down a bandit.

Maximum range is technically anywhere within 6,000’. Realistically this is more like 3,400’ with 2,000’ and closer shots being fairly high PK dependent on your gunnery skill. There is no minimum range, just be careful not to take yourself out!


I can’t over emphasize enough how important good weapons knowledge is to a pilots success in aerial combat. This entails detailed study of each weapons limitations (such as gimble limits for the weapon and radar & seeker/tracking limits), range limits, and correctly interpreting HUD and radar symbology/info. The bottom line is giving your weapons the best chance of successful employment, getting good shots off, and weapons on target. Detailed knowledge and understanding of your weapons and how to employ them will increase your chances of making this happen.

Get in the habit of going over a mental checklist for each type of weapon prior to and during employment. Analyze engagements to find what went right and/or identify and fix problem areas. If you put in the work to really understand your weapons and their proper employment, you’ll be amazed at how much more confident, and more successful you are in Air to Air combat.

Good Luck & Happy hunting!


56th VFW



56th Air Combat Course and Presentation by:


56th Virtual Fighter Wing

Send questions and comments to:

ICQ 56609485