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Test sets world land speed record

  • Published
A 192-pound, fully instrumented Missile Defense Agency payload traveled a little more than three miles in 6.04 seconds April 29, validating Holloman's high-speed test track hypersonic upgrades and setting a world land speed record.

Air Force Materiel Command experts conducted the test in New Mexico's Tularosa Basin where Air Force officials witnessed a four-stage, rail-bound rocket sled reach Mach 8.5 or 6,416 mph. That equates to more than 31 football fields per second.

The sled broke the standing world land speed record of Mach 8.1 for travel on rails, also set here in October 1982. Lt. Col. James "J.J." Jolliffe, 846th Test Squadron commander, said the sled hit its target with energy equal to a car hitting a wall at 2,020 mph.

The test culminated the facility's Hypersonic Upgrade Program which began in 1998, according to Jolliffe. The program significantly increases the test track experts’ ability to meet a variety of hypersonic (more than five times the speed of sound) test needs for the Department of Defense.

Jolliffe said the test demonstrated improvements in rocket sled design, rail alignment, rocket propulsion and modeling and simulation. These new capabilities will be used on an upcoming missile defense warhead test program.

"This is the culmination of five years and $20 million, and more than doubles our chances for success in testing," Jolliffe said. "The test's success is a testament to the professionalism of the contractor, civilian and military team."

"This is rocket science," Lt. Col. Russ Kurtz, 846th Test Squadron operations director, said to guests and media representatives attending the event. "We're fighting tomorrow's wars today."

A detachment of AFMC's Air Armament Center, the 846th TS is the world's premier rocket sled test facility and the track is the only hypersonic ground test facility in the world capable of achieving the speeds required for these simulations, Jolliffe said. It provides the bridge between laboratory-type experiments and full-scale flight test, and is the Defense Department's "center of expertise" for all ejection-seat testing.

The track is also the lead facility for all supersonic (one to five times the speed of sound) tracks and has been designated as the test organization for theater missile defense hypersonic warhead lethality validation.

Experts said of the more than three miles the sled traveled during the test, 11,000 feet were through a 184-inch in diameter helium tube. Helium decreases air friction and simulates upper atmospheric flight conditions.

Capt. Steve Georgian, 846th TS acquisitions management chief, described the sled hitting the helium as "like a jet hitting its afterburners."

Thirteen rocket motors propelled the sled during the test, including two stages of single Super Roadrunner motors designed specifically for this mission. Each stage is attached to its own part of the sled, Georgian said.

As one stage burns out, its sled detaches and slows down while the next stage is ignited. The final stage carries the payload to its target.

"This is the longest, straightest, fastest track in the world and it's great to work here," said Kurtz. (Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service)