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Model 258 BQM-111 Firebrand

The U.S. Navy has made sustained investments over the years that have contributed to advances in U.S. high speed missile designs employing airbreathing propulsion technology. The ramjet, simple in concept and the earliest form of airbreathing propulsion, uses fixed components to compressand accelerate intake air by ram effect. The ramjet, often called a flying stovepipe due to the absence of rotating parts that characterize the turbine engine, can propel a missile at subsonic to supersonic speeds. The ramjet gets itsname from the method of air compression as it cannot operate from a standing start but must first be accelerated to ahigh speed by another means of propulsion. The air enters the inlet and diffuser, which serve the same purpose as a compressor. Compression depends on velocity and increases dramatically with vehicle speed. The air delivered to acombustion chamber is mixed with injected fuel. This mixture is ignited and burns with a flameholder that stabilizes the flame.

Since the ramjet depends only on its forward motion to compress the air, the engine itself has nomoving parts and offers higher Mach number capability than turbojet engines. However, unlike a turbojet or rocketengine, the ramjet requires an auxiliary boost system to accelerate it to its supersonic operating regime.

The ramjet-powered Talos was first fired in 1951 and introduced into the U.S. Fleet in 1955. After the cancellation of the BQM-90 program in 1973, the Navy had to look for other target missiles to simulate attacking anti-ship missiles. In 1975, it was decided to convert some obsolete RIM-8 Talos missiles to MQM-8G Vandal targets as a short-term solution to simulate the terminal phase of a missile attack. Some 2400 Talos units were built, with the US Navy using a Talos variant (Vandal) as a low-altitude supersonic target. But these simulated especially the terminla phase of attack.

What was needed by the US Navy was a drone capable of simulating all the attack phases of an anti-ship missile. The Navy's technology program in the late 1970s emphasized V/STOL applications of turbine engines, and ramjets for both ship-and air-launched missiles. The first ramjet program in many years was initiated to develop engines for the Navy's Firebrand target. The ZBQM-111A program was launched in May 1977, with the development contract was awarded to Teledyne Ryan for their Model 258 Firebrand, a completely new target vehicle which was to be able to replicate all phases of an anti-ship missile's mission profile.

The old flying stovepipe design came back again in the form of the U.S. Navy target vehicle Firebrand, used to simulate aircraft. Firebrand was designed as a parachute-recoverable ramjet-powered target suitable for ground- and air-launch. Propulsion included tandem solid propellant boosters and two Marquardt LFRJ sustainer ramjets, each about two tons of thrust, located in aft pods. Solid booster rockets propelled the aircraft to Mach 1,2 and the ramjets then took over. Flown from a C-130, the Firebrand could fly at Mach 2.1 and 40,000 ft (12,200 m) before diving at 300 feet (90 meters). The aircraft usually followed a pre-programmed flight but could be controlled remotely. A deviation not foreseen by the flight profile automatically triggered the recovery procedure. The original plan was to build nine Firebrand flight test vehicles and begin flight test in 1983. The program encountered funding difficulties and the vehicle came in heavy for planned air-launch from a C-130 aircraft.

The program was canceled in January 1982 and the US Navy continued to use the MQM-8 Vandals. While the Firebrand was ultimately cancelled, it did provide technology and engine hardware used in subsequent programs. One such example was the CORE engine, which used inner portions of the Firebrand, and was the first in its day to employ a conventional flameholder to be successfully tested at the aerodynamically severe conditions of Mach 2.5 sea level.

The Navy later launched a new program, which would lead to the AQM-127 SLAT. After the cancellation of the earlier BQM-90 and BQM-111 Firebrand programs, SLAT was the U.S.Navys third attempt to develop a dedicated high speed anti-ship missile threat simulator, which has since been successfully realized with the development of the GQM-163 Supersonic Sea Skimming Target SSST.


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