Northrop AQM-38

The AQM-38 was an American target drone, developed during the 1950s by the Radioplane Division of the Northrop Corporation, Newbury Park, California, and manufactured by its Ventura Division at Van Nuys, California.[1] Extensively used for surface-to-air missile training, over two thousand were built during its production run and it saw continued use within the United States Army and United States Navy for nearly twenty years.

AQM-38A on F-89 Scorpion launch aircraft
TypeTarget drone
Place of originUnited States
Service history
In service1959-1970s
Used byUnited States military
Production history
ManufacturerNorthrop Corporation
No. built2000+
Specifications (AQM-38A)
Mass300 pounds (140 kg)
Length9 feet 8 inches (2.95 m)
Height1 foot 6 inches (0.46 m)
Diameter12 inches (300 mm)

EngineAerojet 530NS35
36 lbf (160 N)
Wingspan5 feet (1.5 m)
PropellantSolid fuel
Flight ceiling60,000 feet (18,000 m)
Boost time9 minutes
SpeedMach 0.94
F-89 Scorpion

Design and development

Following flight trials of the XKD4R target drone, developed for the United States Navy, Radioplane redesigned the aircraft into an improved version, designated RP-76, which first flew in 1959.[2] Compared to the XKD4R, the RP-76 had redesigned wing fairings, with the vertical control fin being moved to the underside of the missile, as opposed to being on top.[3]

The RP-76 was designed to fly a pre-programmed trajectory on autopilot, with radio command guidance being optional.[2] As with the XKD4R, control was provided by three fins located forwards on the body of the craft. A Luneberg lens was included to augment the drone's radar signature, and recovery at the end of the flight was by parachute.[2]

Operational history

Following its first flight in 1959,[3] the RP-76 was most often launched from a F-89 Scorpion fighter of the United States Air Force, and was extensively used by the U.S. Army for training the operators of surface-to-air missiles;[2] it saw additional use in training USAF fighter pilots in air-to-air gunnery, as well.[4]

A slightly modified version, designated RP-78, was supplied to the U.S. Navy; it used a more powerful rocket, producing 99,000 lbf (440 kN) of thrust,[4] to propel the drone to a top speed of Mach 1.25.[2]

In 1963, the RP-76 and RP-78 received the designations AQM-38A and AQM-38, respectively, in the new "tri-service" missile designation system.[4] In all, over 2,000 examples of the drone were built by Northrop, with the missile remaining in service with the U.S. Military until they were retired in the mid-1970s.[2]

See also


  1. Hearings on military posture and H.R. 13456, p. 7794.
  2. Parsch 2003a
  3. Parsch 2003b
  4. Jane's 1967, p.421.
  • Parsch, Andreas (2003a). "Northrop (Radioplane) AQM-38". Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles. Retrieved 2011-01-28.
  • Parsch, Andreas (2003b). "Radioplane KD4R". Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles Appendix 1: Early Missiles and Drones. Retrieved 2011-01-28.
  • Taylor, John W.R., ed. (1967). Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1967-1968. London: Jane's Information Group.

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