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AQM-34N Firebee

In the mid-1960s, Ryan Aeronautical Co. answered the need for a system to conduct reconnaissance and gather intelligence without putting aircrew members in danger. The answer became more than 20 different variations of the Model 147 Firebee unmanned subsonic target drone. The Model 147H (USAF designation AQM-34N) became operational with Strategic Air Command reconnaissance units in the late 1960s.

With a wingspan three times that of the original Firebee, it could operate above 60,000 ft. It was the first of the Model 147 family to carry fuel in its wings (wet wings) which gave it a range in excess of 2,400 miles. Several electronic, maneuverability, and low observability (stealth-like) systems were included in the payload to reduce vulnerability to interceptors and surface-to-air missiles.

Between March 1967 and July 1971, 138 missions with AQM-34Ns were launched from DC-130 aircraft and flown under preprogrammed control in and out of hostile territory. Some were lost over China and were displayed in propaganda photos of the day. Almost 65% were recovered, many with the Mid-Air Retrieval System (MARS), a specially equipped helicopter that "snatched" the drone while in parachute descent.

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