AQM-34Q USAF Museum

Since its retirement from operations, AQM-34Q 'Q-15' was on display at the Pima Air & Space Museum for 26 years, and moved to the USAF Museum in 2003. According to the book 'MASDC - Military Aircraft Storage & Disposal Center' from 1983, it has serial number 69-6108. However, 69-6107 is reported on this 1969 serial number listing. The serial number is not applied on the exterior, so it is not clear yet which serial is correct. The Firebee has 'Q-15' on its vertical tail, signifying the 15th Q-model built. This identification method was used for all SAC Firebees in wartime operations.

USAF (1970-1977)

Very little is known about the operational history of this Q-model Firebee. It appears to have had two nicknames: 'Flying Submarine' was painted on the fuselage, and 'Sub Commander' on the vertical tail. It earned these names by its prefence for wet recoveries. On page 208 of 'Strategic Reconnaissance 1956-1976' (see Books) a small photo of the front and center fuselage is shown, with 'Flying' in a different font, and the locations of the individual mission markings slightly different compared to the markings later seen in Pima.

Gerry Ridener served with the 432nd Aircraft Generation Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB (see USAF bio) and reported that in 1977 a long line of the black Q models was awaiting disposition inside the fence at MASDC. They were all covered with the orange and white recovery chutes. It is likely that Q-15 was one of them.

Pima Air & Space Museum (1977-2003)

The Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson (Arizona) received Q-15 from MASDC, and it was on display for 26 years. It is confirmed that that Q-15 was repainted between service in Korea and when it was given to Pima. Reportedly it was repainted one more time during its stay at Pima, moving further away from the original scheme. The markings are not 100% original, but appear to be based on the original operational markings. Among the 24 missions markings, there are five shark markings, indicating wet landings.

Mark Nankivil photographed the Pima Air Museum's black AQM-34Q in 1977:

Craig Kaston made a great walkaround series of black and white photographs in October 1978. The photo of the football shaped fairing of the data link antenna shows two rough coatings. Dave Matthews (formerly with 100th AMMS/100th SRW and 512th FTD, see USAF bio) remembered the interesting story behind it: "The Q originally had a harmonic vibration while being carried under the C-130. When viewed in the closed circuit television, the vertical fin moved through more than two inches at a rate of more than fourty Hertz! It was not only felt through the C-130 airframe, but it could be heard. To avoid or reduce the formation of vortices behind the ball, it was necessary to make the boundary layer trip from laminar to turbulent. The coating it is actually ground-up walnut shells. The modification was not made until 1972 to the few remaining Q models and all of the R's. We wondered if metal fatigue had ever caused an in-flight failure and loss of a vehicle, but we had no way to know..." This is a school book example of Von Karmann vortices, best known for their desastrous effect on the Tacoma Narrows bridge that collapsed in 1940.

Mark Nankivil photographed the Pima AQM-34Q again in 1992:

USAF Museum (2003-current)

Q-15 was removed from Pima in 2003 and returned to the USAF Museum. It was confirmed as being in the restoration area in 2005. It will be repainted as seen right after the last flight at Osan AFB, working from photos supplied by Dave Matthews (see USAF bio). Early 2006 is was reported as being repainted, with the restoration crew working on the markings. It was photographed by David Lednicer (on in 2010. It appears to lack markings.

Airframe detail

John Nitka provided a high-resolution color scan of the TRA 'Family of RPV's' drawing as published in Light Bugs (page 212). It showed two differences with Q-15: it had a ventral fin on the tailcone, and a wire running from the tailcone to the tip of the vertical tail. Dave Matthews knew the answers: "It is a bare copper wire that attaches to an insulated terminal on the tip of the fin. It is the HF antenna for the Sigint package. The blade antenna below the parachute can is the VHF antenna. On the TE, the nose probe is the UHF antenna, and on the TF it is the blade antenna on top of the nose compartment just behind the nose cap."

More photos

Bill Word posted his 1987-1988 museum photos on Flickr.

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