Hypersonic Flight Is Coming: Will the US Lead the Way?


The world is at the start of a renaissance in hypersonic flight, but the U.S. will need steady commitment and funding if it wants to lead the way.

MOJAVE, California — The world is at the start of a renaissance in supersonic and hypersonic flight that will transform aviation, but the effort will need steady commitment and funding if the United States wants to lead the way, congressional leaders and industry officials said at a forum late last month.

“What’s exciting about aerospace today is that we are in a point here where suddenly, things are happening all across the board in areas that just haven’t been happening for quite a while,” said former U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Curtis M. Bedke.

“There was a period where engine technology had just sort of stagnated — a point where all materials technology was going along at about the same pace,” Bedke added. “There just wasn’t much happening. But suddenly, in all sorts of areas that apply to aerospace, things are happening.”

[NASA’s Vision of Future Air Travel (Images)]

Bedke was one of five panelists to speak Oct. 27 at the Forum on American Aeronautics here at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Sponsored by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the forum was hosted by committee chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and member Steve Knight, R-Calif. Bedke, Smith and Knight were joined by David McBride, director of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, and Craig Johnson, director of business strategy and development for Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works. Former Mojave Air and Space Port CEO Stu Witt moderated.

Knight has taken the lead on the House Science Committee in getting NASA’s aeronautical program to focus on a new set of experimental aircraft. He said his passion for these programs isn’t just about improving American aviation — it’s personal.

“In 1967 was the last time we went hypersonic in an airplane,” Knight said, referring to an X-15 flight piloted by his late father, William J. “Pete” Knight. That flight reached Mach 6.7 — 6.7 times the speed of sound — a record for piloted aircraft that still stands nearly 50 years later. (Hypersonic flight is generally defined as anything that reaches Mach 5 or greater. “Supersonic” refers to any flight that exceeds Mach 1.)

Since that time, the U.S. has conducted two unpiloted hypersonic research programs, X-51 and X-43. However, there was no continuity in the work, Knight said.

[Going Hypersonic: Air Force’s X-51A Waverider in Pictures]

“We collected an awful lot of data,” he said. “But what I would like to see is that we can move that data into something, whether we are going to move into an aircraft that we’re going to put people into or we’re going to use it for some other program. We’ve got to have that continuity and move forward.”

Knight noted that it still takes the same 4.5 hours or so to fly from New York to Los Angeles today as it did 30 years ago….(read more)

Source: space.com

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