Teledyne Ryan / Ryan Aeronautical produced the AQM-91 "Firefly" as a stealth-minded, high-altitude, photo-reconnaissance Unmanned Aerial System (UAS). Development began in the late-1960s with the design intended for use by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)as well as the United States Air Force (USAF) for secret over-flights of Chinese airspace - with particular interest given to its growing nuclear sites. First flight was in September of 1968. The product also carried the name of "Compass Arrow".
To fulfill the requirements, the Firefly was given an operational altitude of 78,000 feet with a mission endurance time of 4.5 hours and range out to 2,000 miles. Its onboard photographic equipment allowed for vast swathes of territory to be photographed from 15 miles up with detail providing clarity down to one foot. Externally, the UAS displayed a rather conventional aircraft-type configuration with swept-back wings, a twin-vertical rudder tail unit and central fuselage nacelle. The powerplant was fitted over the fuselage spine as a single General Electric YJ97-GE-3 turbojet engine of 4,000lb thrust. "Stealth" qualities were covered through angled surfaces, special body coatings and onboard electronics.
By design, the AQM-91 was intended for air-launching from a host mothership - this being a Lockheed DC-130E "Hercules" aircraft (a drone-controlling variant of the famous transport aircraft) - and thusly not fitted with its own launching facility. From there, the drone would have operated under its own power and self-guidance utilizing its onboard systems. However, a manual override function allowed for ground controllers to assume function as needed.
With some thawing of China-U.S. relations in the early 1970s, the aircraft no longer found a specific mission requirement within the CIA/USAF, this despite some 28 of the type completed (eight prototypes with twenty production-quality units). As such, the line never flew a single mission over Chinese airspace in its service life and was ultimately discontinued by 1973.
Ryan Aeronautical was founded in 1934 and became part of Teledyne (as Teledyne-Ryan) in 1969. In 1999, Teledyne-Ryan was absorbed under the Northrop Grumman brand label.
Status Retired, Out-of-Service
[ 28 Units ] : Ryan Aeronautical / Teledyne-Ryan - USA
The "Military Factory" name and MilitaryFactory.com logo are registered ® U.S. trademarks protected by all applicable domestic and international intellectual property laws. All written content, illustrations, and photography are unique to this website (unless where indicated) and not for reuse/reproduction in any form. Material presented throughout this website is for historical and entertainment value only and should not to be construed as usable for hardware restoration, maintenance, or general operation. We do not sell any of the items showcased on this site. Please direct all other inquiries to militaryfactory AT gmail.com.
Part of a network of sites that includes GlobalFirepower, a data-driven property used in ranking the top military powers of the world and WDMMA.org, the World Directory of Modern Military Aircraft.