AIM-68 Big Q nuclear air-to-air missile project (USA)

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AIM-68 Big Q nuclear air-to-air missile project (USA)
AIM-68 Big Q nuclear air-to-air missile project (USA)

Since the late fifties, the US Air Force has been armed with the MB-1 / AIR-2 Genie air-to-air missile. She carried a nuclear warhead, but did not have a means of guidance, which limited combat capabilities. In the early sixties, work began on a homing missile for fighters capable of carrying a special charge. The result was the AIM-68 Big Q product.

Title without mistakes

The MB-1 / AIR-2 missile was created to combat Soviet bombers capable of striking the continental United States. One such ammunition with a warhead with a capacity of 1.5 kt could destroy or damage several enemy aircraft at once, and thanks to this, several fighters were able to repel a whole raid. However, the rocket did not differ in high flight characteristics and special design perfection, which imposed significant restrictions and led to risks.

Also in service was the later-developed GAR-11 Falcon guided missile. She had a limited flight range, comparable to the Genie, and also had a relatively weak (0.25 kt) warhead. The potential of the GAR-11 was also limited.

In this regard, in 1963, at the US Air Force Weapons Laboratory (AFWL) at the Kirtland base (New Mexico), work began on the creation of a promising air-to-air missile with a nuclear warhead, increased flight characteristics and a full-fledged homing head. In the future, such a weapon could replace the Genie and Falcon, increasing the potential of the aviation component of the air defense.

At the preliminary study stage, the project received the working designation Quetzalcoatl. However, it soon became clear that not all project participants can correctly write or pronounce the name of the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl. As a result, the rocket came up with less complex names-nicknames Quirky ("Dexterous") and Big Q - "Big Q".

In March 1965, the Air Force assigned the ZAIM-68A index to the project. He pointed out the need to continue work with the possibility of adopting the rocket into service. Upon successful completion of the work, the index would have lost the letter "Z". In some materials, the designation AIM-X appears, indicating the fact that the Big Q was never adopted.

Technical features

The goal of the Big Q project was to create a promising air-to-air missile, compatible with modern and promising fighters. The product was supposed to receive a solid fuel engine, a seeker and a special warhead of limited power. It was required to increase the flight range in order to exclude the possibility of being hit by a nuclear explosion of its own carrier. The project actively used developments on existing weapons and used ready-made components.

AIM-68 Big Q nuclear air-to-air missile project (USA)
AIM-68 Big Q nuclear air-to-air missile project (USA)

The rocket was built on the basis of a cylindrical body with a pointed head, similar to that used in the GAR-1 / AIM-4 Falcon project. In the head part there were X-shaped rudders, in the central and tail - large folding stabilizers. The layout was standard for such a weapon: the seeker was inside the fairing, behind it was the warhead, and the tail was given under the engine. The rocket had a length of 2.9 m with a hull diameter of 350 mm and a stabilizer span of 860 mm. The mass did not exceed 227 kg.

Big Q was supposed to get a dual-mode solid rocket engine. The first mode was intended for the initial acceleration after the reset, after which the sustainer mode with less thrust was used. According to calculations, the rocket was supposed to reach a speed of more than M = 4. A flight range of about 45 miles (about 60 km) was provided.

The missile was supposed to carry a combined seeker with a radar and infrared channel. It was assumed that with such equipment, the product would be able to work both for group and for single purposes. However, a GOS with such characteristics was not yet available, and it had to be developed in the near future. Before the appearance of such a product, it was planned to do with existing ones. So, the experienced Big Q were to be equipped only with the IKGSN from the serial GAR-2A / AIM-4C missiles.

A significant part of the hull was occupied by a nuclear warhead of the W30 type. Due to the expected increase in hitting accuracy in comparison with the AIR-2, it was decided to use a warhead of lower power. The W30 product had small dimensions and power at the level of 0.5 kt TNT. The detonation was carried out at the signal of a proximity fuse.

The new missile was planned to be used with F-101 and F-106 fighters. The issue of application on the promising F-4C was being worked out. In the future, the possibility of integrating other carriers into the complex of weapons was not ruled out. The special missile could remain in service for several decades, despite the regular renewal of the fleet.

In general, the proposed project of the ZAIM-68A Big Q missile could lead to a sharp increase in the air defense of the United States and Canada. Fighters could launch from increased distances and with an increased probability of hitting designated targets - single or group. The presence of a seeker and a nuclear warhead made the missile an effective means of repelling massive raids. On the basis of aircraft with "Big Q" and ground anti-aircraft weapons, it was possible to build a highly effective and reliable defense system capable of stopping any attack of a potential enemy.

Test preparation

In 1964-65. AFWL, together with related organizations, organized and conducted research in the wind tunnel. The reduced layout showed itself well at all operating speeds, which made it possible to continue the development of a full-fledged rocket and begin preparations for flight tests.


In May 1965, an experimental Little Q missile, a simplified version of the future ammunition, was delivered to the White Sands Missile Range. It had a regular body and engine, but instead of electronics and a warhead, weight simulators were installed. Ballistic tests with dropping from a carrier aircraft were successful.

Preparations began for the assembly and testing of missiles with some of the necessary equipment. This version of the product was designated as XAIM-68A. In June 1965, National Tapered Wing Engineering ordered 20 missile casings. The prototype products were to receive engines from AGM-12 Bullpup and IKGSN missiles from AIM-4C. Preparations began for the carrier aircraft, which was supposed to be a modified F-101B fighter.

Already at the end of the same year, the Armaments Laboratory received some of the necessary components and began assembling experimental missiles. Trials were scheduled to begin in the coming months. According to their results, in the medium term, the AIM-68A missile could be put into service.

Unforeseen difficulties

However, optimism was unnecessary. Despite the customer's loyalty, the “Z” project did not have the highest priority. In addition, there were problems in the development of new components for the rocket. The modification of the prototype carrier aircraft also turned out to be more difficult and more expensive than previously thought. There was a lag behind the set schedule. Quite quickly, it began to be calculated in weeks, and then months.

In June 1966, not seeing real achievements, the US Air Force decided to suspend work on Big Q. Over the next two months, the prospects for the project remained unclear, and already in August a decision was made in principle to close it. Until that moment, AWFL had not had time to prepare and conduct full flight tests. Experienced simplified XAIM-68A missiles did not make a single flight, let alone AIM-68 fully loaded.

The Air Force abandoned the Big Q for two reasons. First, they were not satisfied with the growing cost of the program in the absence of significant results. The second reason was the change in command priorities. The US Air Force decided to increase funding for the development and deployment of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and in addition, there were significant spending on operations in Southeast Asia. In this regard, a number of promising projects were laid off, and some were closed altogether - incl. ZAIM-68A.

The rejection of the AIM-68 project canceled plans to replace the AIR-2 Genie missiles. The latter had to be kept in service, but this required modernization. The existing weapon received new engines, which made it possible to slightly increase the flight range. However, according to the results of such an update, the Gini could not compete in their characteristics with the newer Big Q - naturally, in its design form.

Unfulfilled plans

According to the plans of the early sixties, in the second half of the decade, the US Air Force was to receive a new nuclear air-to-air missile with a homing head and increased flight characteristics. This made it possible to abandon the outdated AIR-2 and strengthen the air defense with a more advanced model. However, the Big Q / AIM-68 project ran into serious difficulties, and the command decided to stop its development.

The older models, AIR-2 and GAR-11 / AIM-26, with lower flight and combat characteristics, remained in service with air defense fighters. Such weapons remained in arsenals until the end of the eighties and were decommissioned along with the last carriers. New nuclear air-to-air missiles were no longer being developed in the United States. Further development of air defense went in other ways.

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