Two air-to-air missiles that time forgot: Taildog & Tiamat

Hughes JB-3/M-X750 Tiamat (1945)


August 6 1945 is an infamous day in history, as it was the date that a USAAF B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The very same day marked another significant moment in the history of weapon technology, the first launch of a radar-guided air-to-air missile, the Hughes JB-3 Tiamat. This clumsy weapon, which weighed a whopping 625 pounds (today’s AMRAAM weighs half this and has a warhead of half the weight) was essentially a winged 100-Ib bomb with a FM radar homing guidance system. It had a top speed of 600 miles per hour, a ceiling of 50,000 feet and a range of five to nine miles. It was too much too soon and was cancelled after ten test launches. It was overly ambitious, and would have required technology that was beyond the state of the art in 1945.

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 Hawker Siddeley Dynamics SRAAM Mongoose/Taildog (1968)

Britain was working on an extremely advanced heat-seeking air-to-air missile from the late 1960s. The missile was conceptually similar to the later generation of missiles that entered service around the turn of the century, in its extreme manoeuvrability, ability to hit acquire and hit targets at extreme angles from the firing aircraft’s flightpath. It differed in two respects: its range and being tube launched. The very short range was a product of the requirement for a “dogfight missile” that filled the gap between the short-range Red Top and the gun. The extreme manoeuvrability was aided by thrust vectoring, a feature that would not be seen on an operational missile until the Soviet R-73 entered service in 1984 (it would not be seen on Western AAM until the MICA entered service in 1996). A missile is subject to a minimum range, before which it cannot manoeuvre effectively.  Thrust vectoring enables a missile to start turning before it has accelerated to sufficient speeds for its small aerodynamic surfaces to be useful and allows for dramatic course changes as it pursues a manoeuvring target. Today the IRIS-T, AAM-5B, AIM-9X and MICA use TVC control.

The missile was to engage targets at distances between 250 metres and two kilometres, leading to HSD describing it as “a gun that can fire around corners.” The missile was cancelled in a 1974 defence review but work was to continue for technology demonstration.

Following ground test launches, it was test fired from a Hawker Hunter F6 in 1977 and demonstrated that its uncanny agility was not matched by uncanny loyalty as it rather alarmingly turned directly into the launch aircraft’s flightpath. Work from the project would inform the ASRAAM, a weapon that did not enter service until 1998.

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