AQM-34J Edwards AFFTC museum

The Air Force Flight Test Center museum at Edwards AFB (CA) has an AQM-34J, a rather rare version of the Firebee recce RPV. The AFFTC Museum received it in 1989, before the museum opened in 1994. It came from the San Diego Aerospace Musuem, who reportedly got the drone from Davis Monthan, where it was used for crew training by the 11th Tactical Drone Squadron. It was repainted in about the same scheme that it was received in. There was no serial number plate on the tail bulkhead, so the exact identity of the Firebee is unknown.

The AQM-34J, factory designation Model 147NC(M1), is described in 'Lightning Bugs and other reconnaissance drones' (page 156) as a gap-filler version until the 147SC / AQM-34L became available. It had a new camera system (reported as 'Hycon' in Lightning Bugs and as a Acton KA-85 camera in a SPIE paper) that didn't work well in the Firebee. The NC(M1) Firebee has a distinctive and different nose. It is narrower, and it has a more pronounced transition to the original BQM-34 forward fuselage. 52 were ordered by SAC, but flew only four times. 34 were retained as (ground ?) training vehicles, the remaining 18 were transferred to TAC. Here's a rare photo by Larry Engesath of one before a flight. The paint scheme of that AQM-34J is roughly identical to this restored example.

On 1 October 2005 Craig Kaston had the opportunity to photograph the Edwards AQM-34J. The nose of this particular airframe shows no signs of having been configured with a camera, having only a single vent on the bottom. The absence of camera windows is rather peculiar for a photo RPV. This opens the possibility that this not an AQM-34J but an AQM-34H, a chaff-dropping version with the some nose shape. However the AQM-34H had pylons on its wings, to mount ALE-2 chaff-dispensing pods, and these are absent. The wings are fitted with extended span wingtips. There are two fittings at the wing root next to the fuselage (one on each side). The vertical stabilizer is configured with the Microwave Command Guidance System antenna, but it does not have the blister fairing above the rudder for the remote sensor for the MA-1 compass system. No engine is installed, which allows the viewer to see the wing carrythrough structure and a peek inside a fuel tank (the access cover has been removed).

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