14 September 2009

Originally equipped with the AIM-9B Sidewinder for close-range missile attack in Vietnam, the USAF replaced the mediocre AIM-9B with the Hughes AIM-4D Falcon that was used by the USAF's interceptor force. Though heat seeking like the Sidewinder, the Falcon proved wholly unsuitable for dogfighting as it was designed to shoot down strategic bombers. It required the seeker head be cooled down before launch and needed a direct hit to score a kill as it didn't have proximity fuzing. In what became known as the "Falcon Fiasco", the limited cooling time of the liquid nitrogen supply was only two minutes, usually less, and the seeker could not be pre-cooled. Once the nitrogen supply was exhausted, the missile was blind and referred to derisively as the "Hughes Arrow".

After he fired four Falcons in combat without success, Col. Robin Olds, commander of the 555th Tactical Fighter Wing in Vietnam ordered them off the USAF Phantoms in theater as he was convinced the Falcons cost him a fifth kill to reach ace status in Vietnam. Newer versions of the Sidewinder returned to the Phantom's arsenal as a result.

Source: Air & Space Smithsonian, January 2009. "Where Have All the Phantoms Gone? How a fighter-bomber-recon-attack superstar ended up as fodder for target practice" by Ralph Wetterhahn, p31.


  1. There has never been a 555th Fighter Wing. Robin was CO of the 8th Wing. The 555th SQUADRON was assigned to the 8th during his tenure. And yes, he was really cranky about the AIM-4.