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In 1946 the USAAF awarded study contracts for several types of guided air-to-air missiles. These included project MX-799, which was assigned to Ryan Aeronautical, and which called for a fighter-launched subsonic AAM for use against bombers. In 1947, Ryan was awarded a development contract under project MX-799 for the AAM-A-1 Firebird missile, the first really viable air-to-air missile project of the U.S. Air Force. The first launch of an XAAM-A-1 prototype occurred in October 1947.
The XAAM-A-1 prototypes were launched from DF-82C and DB-26B aircraft. The missile had a solid-propellant booster, which was in line with the rear fuselage. After booster burnout, it was dropped, and the liquid-fueled sustainer engine (there is one source, though, which quotes a solid sustainer) propelled the Firebird for another 15 seconds. For stability and control, the XAAM-A-1 used cruciform moving wings and fixed tailfins. It was directed toward the target by an operator using a radio command guidance system, and used semi-active radar guidance for terminal homing. The high-explosive warhead was detonated by a proximity and impact fuzing system.
The Firebird tests continued until late 1949, when the AAM-A-1 program was cancelled. The mid-course command guidance made the missile a pure day-only clear-weather weapon, and while the possibility of a radar beam-riding guidance was studied, this option was not pursued because the subsonic XAAM-A-1 was effectively obsolete in 1950. However, data obtained during tests of the SARH terminal guidance proved useful in the development of the GAR-1/AIM-4 Falcon missile.