U.S. Air Force Develops Hypersonic Technology Road Map

X-51A hypersonic vehicle

The U.S. Air Force has developed a decadal technological road map for hypersonic vehicles that will help to focus the disparate development programs being pursued by America’s defense organizations.

However, anyone hoping this research will quickly find its way into civilian transports capable of whisking passengers from New York to Sydney in two hours is going to be disappointed. That’s likely to take a long time.

Aviation Week reports:

Unlike many earlier road maps, however, the new plan is measured in decadal, rather than annual, targets and appears to accommodate both the technological difficulties of the tasks and the realities of defense science and technology (S&T) spending in a time of austerity.

The Air Force defense S&T vision now calls for efforts to support development of a hypersonic strike weapon by 2020, and a penetrating, regional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft—probably piloted—by 2030. The service intends to achieve for strike weapons a technology readiness level (TRL) of 6, the jumping off point for full-scale development, by the start of fiscal year 2018. The target for a hypersonic aircraft is the far lower TRL 4 maturity level by 2020….

The plan essentially funnels together the outcomes from a broad range of Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and other national and international efforts that have either ended, been canceled, are in process or in flux with uncertain funding. They range from the X-51A, with one more flight to go, to the canceled DARPA Blackswift, as well as related Facet combined-cycle and HiSted high-speed turbine engine technology demonstrations. Others include the US-Australian HIFiRE (hypersonic international flight research experimentation) fundamental research effort and AFRL robust scramjet.

“There were a lot of things going on at AFRL and none had critical mass. So we said, ‘Let’s pick two areas and see what progress we can make,’” says Clay. “Time-critical strike is on a pretty good pace, whereas the TBCC [turbine-based combined cycle] aircraft side is on a slower pace.” The outline plan “provides the basis for us to talk to other agencies,” he adds.

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