AQM-34K Western Museum of Flight

The Western Museum of Flight is located at Torrance Municipal Airport (CA), also known as 'Louis Zamperini Field', and has an AQM-34K in its collection. The museum has a sizeable collection of drones and targets: apart from the Firebee they have a Northrop NV-135 and NV-144, Radioplane TDD-1 / OQ-2A/B, KD2R-5, OQ-19 Recce, RP-76 and RP-99, and a Teledyne-Ryan 326 (subscale Hind). The AQM-34K is on display and accessible to the public.

The WMOF used to be located at Hawthorne (CA), but due to problems with its lease contract, the museum closed on 26 July 2006. Late August 2006, the museum signed a lease contract for two hangars at nearby Torrance Municipal Airport / Zamperini Field in Torrance. The collection was downscaled: the restored DC-3 airliner, the F-86 Sabre, the F-14 Tomcat, the AT-6 trainer and other fighters did not move to Torrance, they are loaned out to aviation-related businesses and organizations. The DH-82C Tiger Moth was sold. The museum reopened on 4 November 2007.

The AQM-34K is the USAF designation for the TRA Model 147SRE, and it is a night-time infrared film recce version. Only twenty were built, and this is only one still original external configuration. The manufacturer's identity of this Firebee is 'SRE-8', making it the eighth SRE produced. The USAF serial number is 67-21633, which falls in a BQM-34 serial batch (67-21501 - 21700).

History

The in-service and post-service history so far uncovered by Craig Kaston is as follows:

Unit/Organization Location Action Status Date
Ryan Aeronautical Company San Diego, CA New Production Initial USAF Acceptance 24 August 1968
100 SRW Davis-Monthan AFB Intercommand Transfer Combat Capable 28 August 1968
100 SRW Davis-Monthan AFB Intercommand Transfer Placed In Storage 20 November 1968
100 SRW Davis-Monthan AFB Intercommand Transfer Combat Capable 5 February 1969
100 SRW Davis-Monthan AFB Intercommand Transfer Placed In Storage 7 February 1969
100 SRW Davis-Monthan AFB Intercommand Transfer Transfer of accountability 26 May 1969
- History unknown in this period -
Lear Siegler, Inc. (LSI) Astronics Division Santa Monica, CA Bailed to LSI Testbed Unknown (possibly by 1971-2)
California Science Center Los Angeles, CA Donated to CSC by Lawrence A. LaCotti, President of LSI. Stored 1986
The Western Museum of Flight Hawthorne, CA Loaned to WMOF by CSC On display, restoration in progress. 2001

The post Air Force life of SRE-8 has been deduced from Craig Kastonís close examination of the airframe:

Configuration

The SRE version is not illustrated in any Firebee reference, and it is the first time we can see the details of this rare version. Some external differences compared to an AQM-34L are:

Dave Matthews of 100th AMMS/100th SRW and 512th FTD (see USAF bio) remembers that one AQM-34K was in use at Davis-Monthan in 1971, most likely as a maintenance trainer. It was gone before the end of the year; he doesn't remember whether it was eventually expended as a day flight trainer or put it in storage at the Bosal company at Tuscon airport. Dave reports that the AQM-34K was closely related to the AQM-34L in all subsystems other than the camera and lighting system. Dave reported that an interesting aspect of the AQM-34K is the fact that the capacitor bank that provided the high voltage discharge for the strobe lights was extremely dangerous after flight. The capacitors could hold their charge for a considerable time period. A special grounding rod was driven into the ground next to the recovered drone. Attached to the ground rod was a braided cable that connected to an insulated shaft that contained a row of low value resistors. At the end of the insulated shaft was a bayonet connector that was plugged into a grounding plug on the drone; this connection discharged the capacitor bank to ground. Only then was it safe to touch the drone! Dave believes the electrical receptacle was the actual airframe ground, located on the left side of the top fairing, more or less in line with the leading edge of the wing.

Restoration

The Firebee was restored by a WMOF crew under the direction of volunteer Herb Stark. It initially lacked wingtips and a tailcone, but a set of short wingtips and a long parachute container/tailcone have been obtained and are now being refurbished. Whether a long or short tailcone was fitted originally is very difficult to establish (lacking photos), but Dave Matthews thinks the the switch to the 100 foot chute with corresponding larger tailcone was made in late 1971. Close examination of the drone has revealed that it is fitted with the original horizontal stabilizer tips without endplates (endplate use began with the 147SC, SD and SK models). This means that the restoration crew will have to build a ventral fin from scratch. SRE-8 does not have an engine.

The restoration crew worked hard during 2005 and 2006. Wing tips and a tailcone were found and installed, and a replacement rudder and rudder actuator fairing were made from scratch. In June 2006 the Firebee was repainted in black overall. The excellent result can be seen on Herb Stark's 'Stark Ravings' web site.

Photos

Tjepke Heeringa photographed SRE-8 in July 2005.

Restoration project leader Herb Stark opened the forward and aft compartments of the AQM-34K in August 2005, and kindly provided the following photographs (more can be be seen on Herb's 'Stark Ravings' web site). In the forward compartment all the modules are present, but the camera has been removed. The camera windows are protected by white felt inside the compartment when the camera are not installed. In the aft compartment, all the electronics have been removed.

Craig Kaston photographed the Firebee in January and March 2006, and kindly sent some views not covered in the previous photo sets. An interesting detail is the fiberglass disk seen under the horizontal stabiliser (fitted on both sides, look closely here). According to Craig, it's possibly a radar altimeter (RALACS?) that was later moved the fiberglass stabiliser tip.

The museum's Grand Opening was held on 4 November 2007. Craig Kaston attended the ceremony and photographed the AQM-34K in its display position.



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