In the mid-1960s the U.S. Air Force needed a system to conduct reconnaissance and gather intelligence without putting aircrews in danger. Ryan’s proven Model 147 Firebee unmanned target drone, built in more than 20 variants, filled the requirement. The Model 147H, designated AQN-34N by the USAF, became operational with Strategic Air Command reconnaissance units in the late 1960s.

With a wingspan three times that of the original Firebee, it could operate above 60,000 feet. The AQM-34N had a range in excess of 2,400 miles. Several electronic, maneuverability and stealth-like low observability systems were included to reduce vulnerability to interceptors and surface-to-air missiles. Between March 1967 and July 1971, 139 AQM-34N missions were launched from DC-130 aircraft and flown under preprogrammed control in and out of hostile territory. Some AQM-34Ns were lost over China and were displayed in communist propaganda photos. Almost 65 percent were recovered, many with the Mid-Air Retrieval Systems (MARS), a specially equipped helicopter that “snatched” the drone while in parachute descent.

The AQM-34N on display was retired from the USAF in 1969. The Museum of Aviation received the aircraft in 2005.

  • Span: 32 ft.
  • Length: 30 ft.
  • Height: 6 ft. 8 in.
  • Weight: 3,830 lbs. max.
  • Armament: None
  • Engine: J69-T-41A turbojet with 1,920 lbs. thrust
  • Serial Number: 67-21505
  • Maximum speed: 420 mph.
  • Range: more than 2,400 miles
  • Service ceiling: 65-70,000 ft.