AIM-9 Sidewinder

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The AIM-9 Sidewinder is an air-to-air, short range, heat-seeking missile that was the first AAM to be used in aerial combat. It is named after a United States rattlesnake that detects prey by sensing body heat. It was developed in the 1950s by the Raytheon Corporation. It flies at a speed of Mach 2.5 and has a 20 lb warhead. Early models had to be fired from behind the target to home in on an enemy plane's exhaust, but newer models are "all-aspect," meaning they can home in from any angle. The Sidewinder is still in service today as the AIM-9X Sidewider.

A AIM-9 on the wing of an F-16.

Ford AreoSpace/Raytheon Sidewinder:

Powerplant: 1 Rocketdyne Mk 36 solid-propellant

Performance: Mach 3(1980 mph)

Weight: 186 lb.

Length: 9 ft. 4 in.

Width: 5 in.

Warhead:(AIM-9) 25 lb. high explosive (AIM-9L) 50 lb. high explosive

The Sidewinder was the (unintentional) basis for the Soviet-made AA-2 Atoll missile.[1]

Operational History

The Sidewinder was first used in combat by F-86 Sabers of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in dogfights over the Taiwan Strait with MiGs from Communist China in 1958; AIM-9Bs brought down four MiGs and damaged two others.[2] The Sidewinder has seen use in almost every aerial conflict since then, and played a significant role in air combat in the Vietnam War, the Yom Kippur War, the Falkland Islands War, and the Gulf War.[3]


  1. AA-2 ATOLL at Military Analysis Network
  2. Taiwanese Air-to-Air Victories
  3. Rolling Thunder: Jet Combat From World War II to the Gulf War, by Ivan Rendall, 1997