How Stinger Missiles Lock and Destroy Aircraft ?

How Stinger Missiles Lock and Destroy Aircraft ?

Stinger missile has a reputation of being extremely effective against aircraft. It can shoot down any aircraft flying below 11000 ft. How does it work? What kind of plane can it shoot down? Let’s find out.

FIM-92A, AKA Stinger missile

Stinger missile is also known as the FIM-92A. Stinger missile has been a boon for the ground troops to deal with the low-flying aircraft and helicopters. A low-flying enemy aircraft has always been a problem for ground troops because they are bombing, doing surveillance work, or resupplying enemies.

Shooting those aircraft is the easiest way to weaken the enemy. Stinger missile has been in US ground troops in abundance. Some points make stinger missiles very efficient for the ground troops:

  • It is a Man-portable air defense system (MANPADS).
  • The rocket and its launcher weigh around 35 pounds (15 kg).
  • The launcher is reusable, and each missile weighs about 10 kg.
  • It’s a shoulder-launched weapon. One person can launch the missile, but it usually can be seen launched by two people.
  • It uses a passive infrared seeker to lock the target, also called the fire and forgot weapon.
  • How Stinger Missiles Lock and Destroy Aircraft ?
    An Afghan mujaheddin aiming at Soviet aircraft with Stinger. Circa 1980s.
    Image Source:
    Rare Historical Photos


It is also known as a passive seeker because it does not emit radio waves to see & lock the targets like the radar-guided missile. The infrared seeker can lock on to the heat produced by the aircraft’s engine. That is why it is also referred to as a heat-seeking missile.

Launching The Missile:

The rocket engine’s various parts are a rocket engine, a launch engine, explosives, a guidance system, and an infrared seeker hand. This launching system has a few parts like a scope, a launch tube, a trigger, and an IFF antenna.

A soldier aims to lock when the seeker locks on the target, makes a certain noise, then the soldier pulls the trigger, the rocket moves out of the launch tube, and the launch engine falls out, then the main solid rocket engine lights.

Now the stinger gets it to boot from the rocket and speeds up to 2400 kph, Mach 2 speed. After that, the missile does its job automatically. And hits the target and explodes. The targets it can hit should be in the range of 5 miles and be seen as a proper shape rather than a dot. Then, there is a high chance the stinger will hit it. Stinger has high accuracy in hitting the target.

How Does it Track the Target?

Any Aircraft leaves a trail of heat signatures or infrared light emitted by its engine. What a stinger does is that it follows that heat with its passive infrared/ultraviolet sensor (IR/UV sensor). Stinger also Identifies the UV “shadow,” Using the shadow differentiates the target from other heat-emitting objects.

stinger missile

We all have heard about motion sensors using identical passive infrared detectors. These motion-sensing lights are programmed with the temperature of a human being. So when no one’s around, they see nothing and sensor lights are off. As soon as someone walks in, the sudden changes in temperature in the environment turn on the light.

The camera on its nose has an array of lights. Infrared sensors receive the image of the scene. The target must be visible and roughly in the middle of the sensors. The stinger has proportional navigation, which comes into play when a missile is fired, and the target may become off-center on the image censors. The guidance system gets the help of proportional navigation.

Stinger Missile stats:

  • Length – 5 feet (1.5 meters)
  • Diameter – 2.75 inches (7 cm)
  • Weight – 22 pounds (10 kg)
  • Speed – 1,500 mph (2,400 kph, Mach 2)
  • Altitude Range – Approximately 11,000 feet (3 km)
  • Distance Range – Approximately 5 miles (8 km)
  • Weight with launcher – 34.5 pounds (15.2 kg)
  • Explosives – 2.2 pounds, impact fuze (explodes on contact with target)


1. How do Stinger missiles lock onto aircraft?

  • Stinger missiles use a passive infrared seeker to track the heat emitted by an aircraft’s engine, allowing them to lock onto their target.

2. What is the range of Stinger missiles?

  • Stinger missiles have an altitude range of approximately 11,000 feet (3 km) and a distance range of approximately 5 miles (8 km).

3. Can Stinger missiles be operated by a single person?

  • While Stinger missiles are shoulder-launched and can be operated by one person, they are often launched by two people for stability and accuracy.

4. Are Stinger missiles effective against helicopters?

  • Yes, Stinger missiles are known for their effectiveness against both low-flying aircraft and helicopters.

5. How fast do Stinger missiles travel?

  • Stinger missiles can reach speeds of up to 1,500 mph (2,400 kph), equivalent to Mach 2.

6. What kind of explosives do Stinger missiles use?

  • Stinger missiles typically contain 2.2 pounds of impact fuze explosives, which detonate upon contact with the target.

7. What technology allows Stinger missiles to differentiate between aircraft and other heat sources?

  • Stinger missiles use proportional navigation and infrared/ultraviolet sensors to identify the unique heat signatures and UV “shadows” produced by aircraft engines.

8. Are Stinger missiles accurate in hitting their targets?

  • Yes, Stinger missiles are known for their high accuracy in hitting their intended targets, provided the target is visible and identifiable.

9. Can Stinger missiles be used against small drones?

  • While primarily designed for larger aircraft and helicopters, Stinger missiles could potentially be used against small drones if they meet the targeting criteria.

10. How does the Stinger missile contribute to ground troop safety? – Stinger missiles provide ground troops with a valuable defense against low-flying enemy aircraft and helicopters, enhancing overall battlefield safety.