HomeNewsArticle Display

Accelerating hypersonics development

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The Air Force has always been about speed. Less than one month after the Air Force became its own service 70 years ago in September 1947, Capt. Chuck Yeager became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound — a barrier once considered impenetrable — in the Bell Aircraft X-1.

On May 3, 2017, Air Force senior leaders met to consider options to accelerate hypersonics research and development to break even more speed barriers and ensure continued technological superiority.

Hypersonics refers to flying at five times the speed of sound, also known as “Mach 5,” or higher. From an Air Force perspective, it is a game-changing capability which can amplify many of the enduring attributes of airpower including speed, range, flexibility and precision.

“We must push the boundaries of technology in every area," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. "Our adversaries aren’t standing still. They are looking for every advantage they can get.”

A recent Air Force Studies Board report identified that the U.S. is not alone in its quest for this increased speed. For example, China and Russia are already flight testing hypersonic weapons, and several other countries have shown interest in pursuing many of the underlying technologies for hypersonic flight.

“We have a real sense of urgency,” said Dr. Greg Zacharias, the Air Force chief scientist. “The acting secretary directed this discussion as a call to arms to maintain our heritage of excellence in this area.”

The discussions this week formulated a common understanding of the potential for hypersonics as a future operational game changer for both the U.S. and its potential adversaries.

"We're accelerating our research in this area," said Acting Secretary of the Air Force Lisa S. Disbrow. "The benefits of this technology for our nation's defense are wide ranging, from offensive capabilities to defensive systems. This is a high priority for the USAF."

“We also laid the groundwork for a longer term coordinated effort in policy, operational concepts, science and technology efforts, acquisition, and test and evaluation,” Zacharias said.

Foundational work for reaching an operational hypersonic capability has been long in the works. Over the years, the Air Force and other partners have researched a number of concepts to reach hypersonic speeds. One involved a “boost-glide” concept. This concept involves a ballistic launch to high speed with a subsequent unpowered glide flight path to the target. Another concept is an air-launch enabled vehicle propelled by its own rocket, ramjet, or scramjet.

In the late 1950s and into the mid-1960s, the joint X-15 hypersonic research program’s three rocket-powered vehicles flew a total of 199 times investigating all aspects of piloted hypersonic flight. On Oct. 3, 1967, the X-15 piloted by Air Force Maj. Pete Knight reached Mach 6.7, setting the world’s unofficial speed record.

According to NASA documents, more important than breaking speed records were the X-15's “probing of hypersonic aerodynamic performance and heating rates, research into structural behavior during high heating and high flight loads, study of hypersonic stability and control during exit from and reentry of the atmosphere, and examination of pilot performance and physiology.”

Decades later, the X-51A program, a collaborative effort of the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, represented one of the Air Force’s most significant reinvestments in hypersonic flight since the X-15 flights nearly 50 years earlier.

Launched from a B-52 Stratofortress bomber for the first time in May 2010, the experimental X-51A “Waverider” was an unmanned, autonomous supersonic combustion ramjet-powered hypersonic flight test demonstrator.

After extensive data analysis and lessons learned from three previous flights, the final flight of the X-51A on May 1, 2013, was the most successful in terms of meeting all the experiment objectives. The cruiser traveled more than 230 nautical miles in just over six minutes reaching a peak speed of Mach 5.1.

The AFRL also has extensive efforts underway in foundational hypersonic technology maturation, including work in ordnance, tactical boosters, airframe and structures, guidance, navigation, and control, and materials and manufacturing.

“We simply can’t get where we need to go without continued science and technology investment to bring these supporting technologies to a readiness level that can meet our timelines for an operational capability,” said Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, military deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition.

The Air Force continues to partner with DARPA on flight demonstration programs for high speed strike weapon technologies which address challenge areas such as air vehicle feasibility, effectiveness and affordability.

We are advancing development of critical technologies of an effective and affordable hypersonic cruise missile. This demonstration will build on the X-51 success and will include a tactically compliant engine start capability and launch from a relevant altitude. Additional programs aim to develop and demonstrate technologies to enable future air-launched, tactical-range hypersonic boost glide systems.

“We’ve had great long-term relationships with industry on these efforts,” Bunch said. “The technology and concepts from these demonstrations will provide options for an operational weapon system for rapidly and effectively prosecuting the type of targets we know we’ll need to reach in highly contested environments.”

Engage

Twitter
The Installation Resilience Operations Center prototype is a game-changing solution for enhancing base security, em… https://t.co/ATHhejDoQJ
Twitter
“It’s important that you will be able to lead through complex challenges,” @GenCQBrownJr said. “I really want to ch… https://t.co/UI86usPVtO
Twitter
VCSAF Gen David W. Allvin visited various @AFResearchLab facilities to see how the 711th Human Performance Wing is… https://t.co/F5tpk0Mabc
Twitter
Invisible Wounds: Signs and Symptoms The Invisible Wounds Initiative, an @AFW2 Support Program, leads in creating… https://t.co/4SeYhlQuua
Twitter
Maggie Gee and Hazel Ying Lee were two of the first Chinese-American aviators to join the Women Airforce Service Pi… https://t.co/txl43oLLRs
Twitter
RT @USAFCENT: Listen to SrA Francis Andrew, assigned to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, tell his story as one of the 'Lost Boys of Sudan.…
Twitter
#ICYMI Aircraft loaded with #COVID19 supplies left @Travis60AMW, California, bound for India. This shipment was jus… https://t.co/YdYFniZyok
Twitter
“While there are a lot of people who have done great things in the #AirForce, we wanted to recognize diversity and… https://t.co/bTH2aP5emk
Twitter
“It is a real honor, and I wish I could be there in person,”@GenCQBrownJr said during his acceptance speech. “I’d r… https://t.co/DH5Ou832K5
Twitter
RT @RealAFOSI: 1/ OSI's Guam based Detachment 602 recently spent time strengthening relationships throughout the Commonwealth of the North…
Twitter
RT @grandslamwing: Mobilizing to assist - anywhere, anytime. Members from #TeamAUAB aboard a C-17 from @TeamCharleston took off to assist t…
Twitter
RT @AirNatlGuard: .@HiAirGuard Airmen deployed to California to participate in exercise Sentinel Response 2021 alongside @CalGuard Airmen a…
Twitter
.@GenCQBrownJr and @cmsaf_official discuss the best ways to help Airmen's talent to bloom. #Airmen #Questionshttps://t.co/GGDHJkiOOb
Twitter
Airmen at the 149th Fighter Wing, Texas, demonstrated an autonomous machine solution for an @AFWERX innovation init… https://t.co/5ZGnnOPfYi
Twitter
During a quarterly senior leader review, @KesselRunAF & @USAF_ACC leaders agreed the Air Operations Center Weapon S… https://t.co/FnXQYIiG86
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: #PublicServiceRecognitionWeek starts today! This is a chance to acknowledge the civil servants who dedicate themselves t…
Twitter
#ICYMI - The Air Force Employee Assistance Program has expanded the available resources available to #AirForce civi… https://t.co/t1eC1eRPfb
Twitter
RT @PACAF: #Airmen from PACAF conducted bilateral training with @JASDF_PAO (Koku-Jieitai) to enhance joint deterrence and response capabili…
Twitter
For 40 Airmen, the standard, manual deployment process averages four hours & 15 minutes per Airman from start to fi… https://t.co/Q8clDOwq3g
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,346,461
Follow Us