Wings being installed on an AIM-7M Sparrow air to air missile.
Source: US Air Force (Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo) - © public domain
The AIM-7 Sparrow is an air to air missile of US origin. It was developed by Raytheon in the early 1950's and is based on earlier projects developed since 1947. The AIM-7 Sparrow is the air-launched version for use on fighter aircraft. The RIM-7 Sea Sparrow is the surface-launched version that is used on many Western warships. Over its lifetime the Sparrow was continuously upgraded and the latest Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile is still in production. The Sparrow was also the basis for the European Skyflash and Aspide derivatives.
The Sparrow has a conventional design in being a cylinder with large cruciform wings in the middle and smaller ones at the rear. The guidance section is in the front, the warhead in the middle and the single stage solid fuel rocket engine at the rear. Over its lifetime the missile has been upgraded with better electronics, new warhead types and larger and more capable rocket engines. The Sea Sparrow missiles are roughly similar to the air launched models but feature folding main wings and some have smaller tail wings.
All variants of the AIM-7 Sparrow use semi-active radar homing. The passive radar on the Sparrow missile tracks the target that is illuminated by either the launch aircraft, another aircraft or a ship based radar. When target illumination ceases the missile is unable to find the target. The latest models are capable of command guidance next to the semi-active radar homing mode. A version with an additional infrared seeker was in development but scrapped due to costs.
The Sparrow is fitted with a continuous rod warhead in the early models and a blast-fragmentation warhead in the latest models. Early model Sparrow missiles had a very poor combat record with a less than 10% kill probability during the Vietnam war. From the AIM-7F onward solid state electronics were used and combat effectiveness improved drastically. Late model Sparrows have a maximum range of about 45 km, although under optimal conditions 70 km could be achieved.
The Sparrow can be launched from most US fighter aircraft developed during the Cold War, including the F-4 Phantom, F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon and F/A-18 Hornet. Additionally it can be used on various Western aircraft such as the F-104S Starfighter, Viggen, Tornado F3 and Japanese F-2.
The AIM-7 Sparrow was the primary BVR missile in US service from the 1960's to the 1990's and was widely exported to US allies in the same timeframe. The AIM-7 has been completely replaced by the AIM-120 AMRAAM in US service but is still used in many other nations.
An AIM-7F launched from an F-15 Eagle.
Source: US Air Force (Master Sgt. Michael Ammons) - © public domain
The AGM-45 Shrike is an anti-radiation missile based on the AIM-7 Sparrow.
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