The three-dimensional Airy beam (AiB) is thoroughly explored from a wave-theory point of view. We utilize the exact spectral integral for the AiB to derive local ray-based solutions that do not suffer from the limitations of the conventional parabolic equation (PE) solution and are valid far beyond the paraxial zone and for longer ranges. The ray topology near the main lobe of the AiB delineates a hyperbolic umbilic catastrophe, consisting of a cusped double-layered caustic. In the far zone this caustic is deformed and the field loses its beam shape. The field in the vicinity of this caustic is described uniformly by a hyperbolic umbilic canonical integral, which is structured explicitly on the local geometry of the caustic. In order to accommodate the finite-energy AiB, we also modify the conventional canonical integral by adding a complex loss parameter. The canonical integral is calculated using a series expansion, and the results are used to identify the validity zone of the conventional PE solution. The analysis is performed within the framework of the nondispersive AiB where the aperture field is scaled with frequency such that the ray skeleton is frequency independent. This scaling enables an extension of the theory to the ultrawideband regime and ensures that the pulsed field propagates along the curved beam trajectory without dispersion, as will be demonstrated in a subsequent publication.
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