The Sparrow and Skyflash


The AIM-7E Sparrow was the original weapon fitted to RAF Phantoms.  The 12 foot long missile body housed the seeker head, the missile guidance section, the autopilot, a fuse, a warhead and the rocket motor.  Fixed triangular fins at the rear provided stability with four moveable fins at the mid-point of the missile body providing steering.

Known as a medium range air-to-air missile, the maximum range increased with height and target speed.  At the combat ceiling, ranges of up to 25 miles were possible. At low level these ranges were much shorter. Crucially, providing the radar was locked to the target, the missile could be fired at any aspect.

Primed before launch, the missile was given information on the target speed. The semi-active missile was guided by a separate continuous wave radar integrated into the main AN/AWG11/12 radar of the Phantom which was reflected from the target and could be received by the Sparrow missile.

Once launched, the Sparrow accelerated to Mach 2.8 above the launch speed and its homing head followed the reflected CW signals with the autopilot giving commands to the control fins guiding it to the target. As it passed in close proximity, the radio fuse would command detonation and the expanding rod warhead would strike the target.

The Sparrow was replaced in the late 1970s by the Skyflash, a British designed missile. Although outwardly similar and still carried in the under fuselage semi-conformal launchers, the electronics were completely updated. Skyflash had a new motor which conferred significantly longer range. The new monopulse seeker head performed better in an electronic jamming environment where the Phantom was expected to fight. A new fuse identifiable by black strip antennas down the centre body of the missile improved lethality.


For training, a missile simulator could be carried which fed signals to the weapon system to simulate the inputs from a live missile. This allowed simulated missile shots to be taken during training intercepts.