Beechcraft AQM-37A Jayhawk

Before “drone” meant an aircraft piloted from inside a container thousands of miles away, it usually referred to pre-programmed craft like the AQM-37 Jayhawk.

First flown in 1961, the AQM-37A is a non-recoverable drone meant to simulate aircraft or missile targets. It must be pre-programmed for course, speed, and altitude, but can be set to fly between Mach 0.7 and Mach 3.0 at altitudes from sea level to 80,000 feet (24,400 meters). This allows it to simulate anything from subsonic attack aircraft on bombing runs to high-speed anti-ship missiles. It is assisted in its simulation role by high-intensity flares and radar reflectors, which can cause it to appear to be a much larger target on radar. It has an endurance of five minutes, after which time it will self-destruct if not already engaged and destroyed. Later models added remote control and increased speed and altitude limits to Mach 4 and over 100,000 feet (30,500 meters); even higher altitudes can be reached when simulating a ballistic missile re-entry.

The Jayhawk is powered by a liquid-fueled rocket engine – an engine that is normally built by Rocketdyne, but during certain years was built by Harley-Davidson (due to corporate mergers over the years). While most rocket engines use either solid propellant or cryogenic liquids like liquid hydrogen, the AQM-37 uses a pair of highly volatile chemicals (inhibited red fuming nitric acid [IRFNA]/mixed amine fuel #4 [MAF-4]). While these can be stored for long periods, they combust when combined, requiring very careful handling.

The AQM-37 is still in limited production today, more than five decades after its introduction.

The Jayhawk was a frequent flyer in the Hawaiian skies, acting as a target for ships from Pearl Harbor and fighter aircraft from Hickam AFB and MCAS Kaneohe. They were launched from NAS Barbers Point by do-anything utility squadron VC-1, frequently beneath their A-4 Skyhawks. After Barbers was closed, responsibility for drone launches was transferred to the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauaʻi.

 Aircraft Data:

Role:  Target simulation drone
Length:  12 feet 7 inches (3.83 meters)
Wingspan:  3 feet 4 inches (1.00 meters)
Height:  1 foot 11 inches (0.59 meters)
Powerplant:  1x Rocketdyne LR64-NA-4 liquid-fueled rocket, 850 lbs (3.78 kN) thrust
Max. Speed:  2,300 mph (2,000 knots, 3,700 kph)
Endurance:  5 minutes