The AIM-9 Sidewinder is a short-range air-to-air missile developed by the United States Navy in the 1950s. Entering service in 1956, variants and upgrades remain in active service with many air forces after five decades. The United States Air Force purchased the Sidewinder after the missile was developed by the United States Navy at China Lake, California.
The majority of Sidewinder variants utilize infrared homing for guidance; the AIM-9C variant used semi-active radar homing and served as the basis of the AGM-122 Sidearm anti-radar missile, which ws unsuccesful. It has been built under license by some other nations including Sweden. The AIM-9 is one of the oldest, least expensive, and most successful air-to-air missiles, with an estimated 270 aircraft kills in its history of use.
The missile was designed to be simple to upgrade. Boeing won a contract in March 2010 to support Sidewinder operations through 2055, guaranteeing that the weapons system will remain in operation until at least that date.
The devopment of the AIM-9 began in 1946 at the Naval Ordnance Test Station (or NOTS) in Inyoken, California, which was renamed to Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake. The AIM-9 was originally concieved by U.S. Navy physicist, William B. Mclean, iniatially calling his effort "Local Fuse Project 602. He was supported by laboratory funding and volunteers to create a heat-seeking rocket. However, it didn't receive government funding until 1951, when the concepts were demonstrated to Deputy Chief of the Bureau of Ordnace, Admiral William "Deak" Parsons. 1 year later, it was given the official designation, AIM-9. The Sidewinder demonstrated numerous technologival advancements over the U.S. Air Force's counter-part, the AIM-4 Falcon. Later, the Air Force adopted Sidewinders after encountering disappointing expreriences with the Falcon.
Sidewinder is a common name of the Horned Rattlesnake or Sidewinder Rattlesnake. In early tests, the missile would zig-zag to it's target, in a similar manner to a Rattlesnake, thus earning the name, Sidewinder.