de Havilland Firestreak

The de Havilland Firestreak is a British first-generation, passive infrared homing air-to-air missile. It was developed by de Havilland Propellers (later Hawker Siddeley) in the early 1950s and was the first such weapon to enter active service with the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm, equipping the English Electric Lightning, de Havilland Sea Vixen and Gloster Javelin. It was a rear-aspect, fire and forget pursuit weapon, with a field of attack of 20 degrees either side of the target and was partially replaced in service by a developed variant, the Hawker Siddeley Red Top.

de Havilland Firestreak
Class Missile
Type Air to Air
Manufacturer de Havilland Propellers
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1957
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Kuwait View
Saudi Arabia View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1957 1988 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
de Havilland Propellers View

Firestreak was the result of a series of projects begun with the OR.1056 Red Hawk missile. When this proved too ambitious for the then state of the art, a lower performance specification was released in 1951 as OR.1117, and given the Ministry of Supply rainbow codename Blue Jay.

Blue Jay developed as a fairly conventional-looking missile with cropped delta wings mounted just aft of the midpoint and small rectangular control surfaces in tandem towards the rear. Internally, things were considerably more complex. The rear-mounted controls were operated by nose-mounted actuators via long pushrods. The actuators were powered by compressed air from bottles at the rear. The lead-tellurium (PbTe) IR seeker was mounted under an eight-faceted conical arsenic trisulphide "pencil" nose and was cooled to -180 °C (-292.0 °F) by anhydrous ammonia to improve the signal to noise ratio. The unusual faceted nose was chosen when a more conventional hemispherical nose proved prone to ice accretion. There were two rows of triangular windows in bands around the forward fuselage, behind which sat the optical proximity fuzes for the warhead. The warhead was at the rear of the missile, wrapped around the exhaust of the Magpie rocket.

The first airborne launch of Blue Jay took place in 1955 from a de Havilland Venom, the target drone - a Fairey Firefly - being destroyed. Blue Jay Mk.1 entered service in 1957 with the RAF, where it was named Firestreak. Firestreak was deployed by the Royal Navy and the RAF in August 1958; it was the first effective British air-to-air missile.

For launch, the missile seeker was slaved to the launch aircraft's radar (Ferranti AIRPASS in the Lightning and GEC AI.18 in the Sea Vixen) until lock was achieved and the weapons was launched, leaving the interceptor free to acquire another target.[4] A downside was that the missile was highly toxic (due to either the Magpie rocket motor or the ammonia coolant) and RAF armourers had to wear some form of CRBN protection to safely mount the missile onto an aircraft.[citation needed] "Unlike modern [1990s] missiles, ... Firestreak could only be fired outside cloud, and in winter, skies were rarely clear over the UK."

Type air-to-air missile
Place of origin United Kingdom
Service history
In service 1957–1988
Used by United Kingdom, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia.
Production history
Designed 1951
Manufacturer de Havilland Propellers
Weight 136 kg (300 lb)
Length 3.19 metres (10 ft 6 in)
Diameter 0.223 m (8.8 in)
Warhead 22.7 kg (50 lb) annular blast fragmentation
proximity infrared
Engine Magpie solid fuel motor
Wingspan 0.75 m (30 in)
4 miles (6.4 km)
Speed Mach 3
rear-aspect infrared
control surface
fixed-wing aircraft

End notes