AQM-34K Pima Air Museum

The Pima Air & Space Museum collection includes an AQM-34K, painted as the 'Jaws', and always (erronously) referred to as an AQM-34L. The story of this Firebee has been traced back as follows. Gerry Ridener worked in the 432nd AGS at Davis-Monthan AFB from 1977 to the end in 1979 (see USAF bio), and he recalled that the Firebee was put together from pieces of drones that were no longer able to fly. It was placed on the hydraulic stand to be displayed down in front of 'Drone Country', the main drone area at the eastern end of the flightline at Davis-Monthan. The serial number '69-432' was put on to commemorate the 432nd Tactical Drone Group. Therefore, the serial number is a fake, and the true identity of this Firebee is not known (if there is one in the case of a composite airframe).

With the discovery by Craig Kaston that the SAC Museum AQM-34L is an AQM-34K in disguise, it now strongly looks like the Pima Firebee is (mainly) an AQM-34K too. The flasher units in the lower rear fuselage are covered with a sheet metal panel, untypically done with mushroom rivets. All other typical K-details are correct, except for the radome and tailplane endplates. It explains why the camera windows are more forward compared to am AQM-34L. The radome appears to have come from an AQM-34V.

Gene Kincaid provided two photos that show '69-432' at Davis-Monthan. They show the fake serial number '69-432' in the then-current TAC style as 'AF 69 432' along with a 'DM' base code. A data block is painted under the horizontal tail, but it is largely obscured. A large TAC emblem is painted on the rear fuselage, 'The Hunter' on the mid-fuselage, and 'Crew chief Col James E. Witzel' on the nose section (the latter is only readable in the Craig Kaston photograps below). The Firebee sits on the typical hydraulic dolly. The dolly has the number 'T105' on the chassis and '0B17' on the front support frame, and the same numbers can be seen on the Pima dolly today.

The Firebee moved over to the adjacent Pima Air & Space Museum, probably in 1978.

Craig Kaston made two black and white photographs in October 1978. They reveal the crew chief name: 'Col James E. Witzel', and the camera windows appear to be covered with sheet metal.

The Firebee was repainted at some point as 'Jaws' instead of 'The Hunter', with only a partial serial number '432'. The 'Jaws' markings appear to be partially based on the markings of a Firebee with serial number 67-21638, as photographed by Bob Harrington at Davis-Monthan in March 1977. The original 'Jaws' was very likely a night-time recce AQM-34K converted for training duties, with covered flasher units, a different radome and large-size tailplane end-plates.

Mark Nankivil photographed '432' in 1992. It sits on the same hydraulic dolly as seen at DM (compare the numbers), but the wheels have been taken off.

Tjepke Heeringa photographed 'Jaws' in 1999. It still sits on its wheelless cart, but apperently at a different location.

Mark Nankivil visited Pima again in November 2003, and at that occasion he made a walkaround photo set of the museum's AQM-34L. The photos were made with a low sun setting, which explains the warm colors of the Firebee.

More photos

A 21 photo walkaround by Luc Colin can be found at the Prime Portal Web Site.



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