Warplanes: May 15, 2001


HYPERSONICS: THE NEXT GREAT LEAP; The next paradigm shift in aircraft technology will be based on hypersonics, air-breathing aircraft able to travel at five times the speed of sound or more. (Air-breathing is a key aspect. Rockets have to carry their own oxygen to burn their fuel, which means that for the same payload, a rocket must be larger than an aircraft.) Everyone is interested. The Air Force imagines manned bombers than can strike targets halfway around the world in one-fifth of the time the B-2 needs. NASA wants to replace the shuttle with a large hypersonic aircraft that would climb to the edge of space and then launch a rocket-driven "second stage" into orbit. The Navy wants anti-ship cruise missiles that travel at five times the speed of sound. The Army wants a ground-launched missile that could hit a mobile Scud launcher (detected by satellite or a recon drone) before it could reach a hide site. The Air Force, NASA, DARPA, the Navy, and the Army are working together to establish a road map to reach this technology. The Air Force has already begun a project to build a scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet). The X-43A is to fly next June on hydrogen-fueled scramjet engines. The X-43A should reach Mach-7 and may eventually reach Mach-10. The X-43B will use the new ISTAR engine. This has a pure rocket engine to reach Mach-2.5, at which point the engine would convert into a ramjet and accelerate to Mach-5, at which point the engine would convert into a scramjet and climb to Mach-7. The advantage of this system is that the same aircraft could switch its engine back into a rocket to climb into orbit once it ran out of atmosphere to burn. Later, the X-43C would test a hydrocarbon scramjet, and the X-43D may reach Mach-15 on pure hydrogen. Critics fault the Air Force, however, for failure to establish a strict system of analyzing hypersonic systems.--Stephen V Cole 




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close