The colors of the AQM-34 Firebees are rather unclear. The following color and schemes were identified:
Many photos in 'Lightning Bugs and other reconnaissance drones' suggest an overall black scheme. However, many were orange-red in reality. Apparently this color shows as black in black and white photos. Just as an example, take the first Model 147A models, on page 28: it looks black but was orange. It isn't likely that the USAF flew orange-red AQM-34's operationally, but many test birds were painted in this color.
There were black operational AQM-34s. Definitely confirmed to be black were the 147SRE aka AQM-34K night recce Firebees. 'Lightning Bugs' page 142 quotes "This visual night reference [reflective tape] was necessary as no detail whatever of an absolutely black bird can be seen against an absolutely black sky". The USAF Museum's AQM-34N and the Pima AQM-34Q appear to be the only remaining black examples.
Most of the low-level AQM-34L/Ms seem to have been painted light gray overall, probably FS x6492, either 26492 or 16492.
The Navy Model 147SKs had a three-tone grey scheme, with scallops. It is also seen on some Air Force AQM-34Ls.
Some of the camo pattern of an 147NP model can be seen on page 123 of 'Lightning Bugs'. Colors are not known.
Larry Engesath's photos from 1973 show a two-color grey scheme, with FS 36622 on the lower side and possibly US Navy gull gray on the top side
The long tailcone (housing two parachutes) appears to have been black on almost all Firebees. On later models, the forward part of the cone is sometimes in the camouflage color too. The 'radar blankets' (aka RAM) reported in the first chapters of 'Lightning Bugs' appear to be white.
Some snippets about markings:
On early Model 147s, the usual identification appears to have been the model number from the factory Model 147 designator (like 'B' for the Model 147B), followed by a sequence number, starting at 1
On later Model 147s, the usual identification appears to have been the suffix letter of USAF model designator (AQM-34L gives L for example), followed by a sequence number, starting at 1
Some had (parts of) their USAF serial numbers painted on. On some the last four digits were painted in various locations.
Tail codes: 'DM' for the Davis-Monthan based TAC units that operated AQM-34's. 'HI' is also known (AQM-34V), possibly used by 6514th Test Squadron while bases at Hill AFB.
No national markings or 'U.S. AIR FORCE' markings appear to have been carried. Exceptions are test birds flown over and around the USA.
A nickname was given after given after five completed operational missions.
Mission markings were generally started on the left side, but could overflow to the right side.
Stencils were very limited or absent.
A turbine warning stripe was usually applied to the nacelle.
'Lightning Bugs' page page 65 reports that in 1964, 147B's were flown with Taiwanese roundels.
The US Air Force published generic painting instructions for drones in various Technical Orders. They seems to apply more to BQM-34s target drones than AQM-34s reconnaissance RPVs.
USAF Tech Order 1-1-636 'Exterior finishes, insignia and markings applicable to USAF aircraft' from 1957, sections 3-41 to 3-44, specifies 'insignia red' for drones. In the (later) FS595 system, this is FS 11136. Screen shot courtesy of 'Sabrejet'
USAF Tech Order 1-1-4 'Exterior finishes, insignia and markings applicable to aircraft and missiles' from 1964, section 3-62, specifies 'fluorescent red-orange, Color No 633' for target drones. This color is part of the ANA166e color range that was used before FS595. Dave Klaus, in 'The IPMS color guide' page 115, states that Color No 633 is the equivalent of FS 28913, although this is not formally identified in ANA166e or FS595
USAF Tech Order 1-1-4 'Exterior finishes, insignia and markings applicable to USAF aircraft' from 1978, section 4-17, specifies 'international orange, Color No 12197' for target drones.
USAF Tech Order 1-1-4 'Exterior finishes, insignia and markings applicable to USAF aircraft' from 1994, section 4-17, specifies FS 12197 for target drones. This TO is reproduced in Dana Bell's USAF colors and markings in the 1990's)
To cover Navy KDA and BQM-34 Firebee target drones too, here are some notes on Navy painting instructions. Unfortunately there are large gaps in time.
This Don Color page (archived by the Wayback Machine) about the '1959 USN Firebee paint scheme' reports ANA 633 Fluorecent Red-Orange. FS595 equivalent is 28913.
Modeler / author Colin Sponner writes in Scale Models International, December 1989 issue, about the colors of Navy drone carriers and drones, based on 'Navy Air Colors Volume 2' by Squadron/Signal. I copied the drone colors only:
1955 - December 1959: Insignia Red (FS595 equivalent 11136)
December 1959 - May 1965: Fluorescent Yellow-Orange (FS595 equivalent 28915)
from May 1965: Fluorescent Yellow-Orange (FS595 equivalent 28915)
Judging from the photos below, there was a transition from red to orange, but it is difficult to judge whether the orange was ANA 633 Fluorecent Red-Orange (FS595 equivalent 28913) or ANA 634 Fluorescent Yellow-Orange (FS595 equivalent 28915). In generel, fluorescent colors are not 'captured' well on color film, and the colors have since only detoriated. On black and white film, these colors could show as near-black (on panchromatic film) or a mid-gray (on orthochromatic film). Further adding to the problem is that both colors faded badly, and reportedly lasted only for about six months.
Red and orange Navy KDAs in one shot. Both red KDAs appear to have orange vertical tails, and the furthest one also has orange horizontal tails and endplates. Screenshot from 'F-2438 Ryan Firebee Maintenance'
Overpainted KDA, with Insignia Red remaining behind 'Navy' and serial number markings. This picture suggests yellow-orange to me. Screenshot from 'F-2442 Ryan Firebee Launch from Douglas A-26 Invader'
Another overpainted KDA. Screenshot from 'F-2442 Ryan Firebee Launch from Douglas A-26 Invader'
Overpainted KDA, with Insignia Red remaining on the electronics hatch in the rear fuselage, and the battery access panel on the forward fuselage. Screenshot from 'F-2442 Ryan Firebee Launch from Douglas A-26 Invader'
Navy manual MIL-STD 2161A 'Paint schemes and exterior markings for US Navy and Marine Corps aircraft' from 1993 states:
section 5.1.4 specifies FS 12197 (international orange) and FS 17925 (insignia white) for drones
section 5.1.5 specifies FS 28915 (fluorescent orange-yellow) for target aircraft
This makes it rather unclear what color a 'target drone' is to be painted in. The manual does not have a drawing with colors and markings for the BQM-34, but the one for the BQM-74C (figure C-50 on page 191) shows FS 12197 as the main color. There are photos of Navy BQM-34s in what looks to me like FS 28915 fluorescent orange-yellow.
Navy manual MIL-STD 2161C 'Paint schemes and exterior markings for US Navy and Marine Corps aircraft' from 2014 changed section 5.1.4: instead of FS 12197 it is now FS 22190. The colors are very close, with the latter maybe redder and brighter.
FS 12197: Testors/Italeri had FS 12197 in its Model Master II range (#2022).
FS 28913: Testors/Italeri had FS 28913 in its Model Master II range (#2041). Humbrol has no match, and neither does Revell-Germany.
FS 28915: Testors/Italeri had FS 28915 in its Model Master range (#1775). Humbrol's 209 Fire Orange (probably discontinued) matches the FS 28915 paint chip reasonably well, but it's not fluorescent. Humbrol's 192 Blaze Matt and 193 Blaze Gloss (both discontinued) match the FS 28915 paint chip reasonably well