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Northrop (Radioplane) AQM-38

In the late 1950's, Northrop's Radioplane division developed the RP-76 subscale radio-controlled recoverable target drone. The RP-76 was essentially the production version of the earlier RP-70, which had been evaluated by the U.S. Navy as the XKD4R-1 (q.v. for differences between the RP-70 and -76). Beginning in 1959, the RP-76 was used by the Army for surface-to-air missile training, mainly with the MIM-3 Nike-Ajax.

Photo: via Ordway/Wakeford

The RP-76 was usually launched from USAF F-89 Scorpion aircraft, and was powered by an Aerojet solid-fuel rocket motor, which produced a thrust of 160 N (37 lb) for about 9 minutes. The drone had two rocket exhausts at the sides of the fuselage, and could reach a speed of Mach 0.94. The RP-76 was controlled in flight by an automatic control system with optional override by radio command, and could be recovered by a two-stage parachute system. The RP-76 had a unique set of flying surfaces, with 3 forward control fins, and a fixed horizontal tailplane located below the ventral vertical tail. Equipment included a Luneberg lens for radar reflectivity augmentation, and a Northrop RPTA-1 tracking aid system.

Photo: Western Museum of Flight

The Model RP-78 was the U.S. Navy's variant of the RP-76. It used a higher-thrust rocket motor, which allowed supersonic speeds of up to Mach 1.25. Other than most U.S. Naval drones before 1963, the RP-78 has apparently never received a KD type designation.

In June 1963, the RP-76 and RP-78 were designated as AQM-38A and AQM-38B, respectively. More then 2000 AQM-38 targets were built, and they were used until the mid-1970s.


Note: Data given by several sources show slight variations. Figures given below may therefore be inaccurate!

Data for AQM-38A/B:

Length2.95 m (9 ft 8 in)
Wingspan1.52 m (5 ft)
Height0.46 m (1 ft 6.2 in)
Diameter30 cm (12 in)
Weight136 kg (300 lb)
SpeedMach 0.94Mach 1.25
Ceiling18300 m (60000 ft)24000 m (78700 ft)
Endurance23 min. (powered: 9 min.)
Range?70 km (44 miles)
PropulsionAerojet 530NS35 solid-fuel rocket; 160 N (37 lb)Solid-fuel rocket; 440 N (100 lb)

Main Sources

[1] Richard A. Botzum: "50 Years of Target Drone Aircraft", Northrop, 1985
[2] R.T. Pretty, D.H.R. Archer (eds.): "Jane's Weapon Systems 1970-71", McGraw-Hill, 1970
[3] Frederick I. Ordway III, Ronald C. Wakeford: "International Missile and Spacecraft Guide", McGraw-Hill, 1960
[4] Norman J. Bowman: "The Handbook of Rockets and Guided Missiles", Perastadion Press, 1963

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Last Updated: 30 March 2003