The AQM-34K was a night reconnaissance version
of the Firebee series of targets drones and RPVs (Remotely Piloted
Vehicles) and was one of the most successful and versatile unmanned
aircraft developed at the time. It was equipped with an infrared
strobe and Doppler radar. It had the short wings of the original
BQM-34A, but the longer fuselage and higher-rated engine of the
147G/J. Twenty of these types of RPVs were built and flown between
December 1968 and November of 1969.
The Firebee series of target drones, developed
starting in 1948, and the follow on RPVs (Remotely Piloted Vehicles)
are still one of the most successful and versatile unmanned aircraft.
The Drones were originally developed to be used as an aerial
target by all three services. The manufacturer of the Firebee
is presently Northrop Grumman, who acquired Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical
in July 1999. More than 6500 Firebee targets of all versions
have been built to date for the U.S. armed services.
The USAF developed the reconnaissance RPV variant
of the BQM-34A Firebee target drone starting in 1961 recognizing
the risk to pilots in manned reconnaisance aircraft. At the time
the only aircraft used for reconnaissance were the RF-101s, RB-47s
and the U-2s.
Ryan converted a target drone to a reconnaissance
RPV configuration under a project called "Fire Fly".
The result was the Model 147A, which first flew in April 1962.
The 147A was externally identical to the standard BQM-34A target
drone but with an upgraded navigation system and increased fuel
supply. The 147A, used the same J69-T-29 engine and was recovered
by a two-stage parachute descent system as in the BQM-34A. The
Model 147 drones were air launched from a Lockheed DC-130 Hercules.
The 147SRE was equipped with an infrared strobe and Doppler radar.
It had the short wings of the original BQM-34A, but the longer
fuselage and higher-rated engine of the 147G/J
In 1969 the Air Force assigned the AQM-34 designations
with various suffix letters to the RPVs. The AQM-34K (147SRE)
was in service from November of 1968 to October of 1969. Most
of the 20 manufactured with this designation were used operationally
over South-East Asia. The RPV under restoration saw service in
Viet Nam where its operational mission was surveillance, reconnaissance,
intrusion detection and sensor deployment.
The drone was donated to the California Science
Center in 1986 by Lawrence A. LaCotti, President of the Lear
Siegler, Inc. Astronics Division. The Western Museum of Flight
acquired the RPV in 2001, on loan from the California Science
Center, Los Angeles, CA. The AQM-34K is currently on display
at the Western Museum of Flight, Torrance, CA.
Additional pictures of the Western Museum of flight's
AQM-34k, can be seen on the Teledyne-Ryan AQM-34 Firebee RPV
web site, click
Restoration started in 2005 with the fabrication
of the tan access panel covers as shown in the following pictures.
Engine inlet and exhaust covers were also fabricated. Since the
wing tips and tail parachute cover are similar to the BQM-34
still in use, efforts were made to obtain them. As a result the
wing tips were obtained from Point Mugu and installed along with
the missing vertical access panels on the vertical stabilizer
and the tail parachute cone. The rudder and lower assembly were
then fabricated and installed.
The last task was to sand the outer skin and repair
any damage prior to painting.
The Firebee was restored by a Western Museum Of
Flight crew under the direction of volunteer Herb Stark. It initially
lacked wingtips and a tailcone, but a set of short wingtips and
a long parachute container/tailcone have been obtained and are
now being refurbished. Whether a long or short tailcone was fitted
originally is very difficult to establish (lacking photos), but
Dave Matthews thinks the the switch to the 100 foot chute with
corresponding larger tailcone was made in late 1971. Close examination
of the drone has revealed that it is fitted with the original
horizontal stabilizer tips without endplates (endplate use began
with the 147SC, SD and SK models). This means that the restoration
crew will have to build a ventral fin from scratch. SRE-8 does
not have an engine.
The restoration crew worked hard during 2005 and
2006. Wing tips and a tailcone were found and installed, and
a replacement rudder and rudder actuator fairing were made from
scratch. In June 2006 the Firebee was repainted in black overall.