Feeds

Hypersonic plane project confirmed by DARPA

Retro 60s tech unlikely to melt much tinfoil

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

In the end - unless you're at the more tinfoil end of the Aurora spectrum - NASP was shelved. DARPA didn't have the money, the USAF was more interested in Stealth, and NASA had all it could do to fund the space shuttle. Since then, researchers have been puttering about with relatively limited efforts such as DARPA's Falcon programme, often ambitious in scope but limited in funding.

One aspect of Falcon is the so-called HTV-3X hypersonic demonstrator. This is a fighter-sized unmanned job, intended to burn regular jet fuel in turbojet/ramjet combo engines much like those of the SR-71.

Veteran aerospace analyst Bill Sweetman reports that the famous Lockheed "Skunk Works" reckon they could design such a modernised Blackbird for speeds of up to Mach 6.5 or so.

Now Wired magazine reports confirmation from DARPA that this relatively limited design has the go-ahead from the Air Force under the name "Blackswift", with funding initially estimated at $800m for two planes.

There are still many questions hanging over the Blackswift, not least what it's supposed to do. Being very fast, very hot, very high and made of exotic refractory material, it won't be at all stealthy - which could limit its usefulness as a spy plane.

Fans of the old SR-71 always said spy birds are more responsive than satellites, but according to some accounts SR-71 operations were actually highly involved, requiring a two-day lead in and multiple prearranged air-to-air refuellings. The crippling expense and complexity of SR-71 missions is one of many official reasons why the aircraft was binned.

As an alternative to spyplane work, a Blackswift hypersonic bomber could offer the ability to strike anywhere in the world at fairly short notice, but then so does an existing ICBM.

All in all, at $0.4bn or more per aircraft, the ability to go at a relatively uninteresting Mach 6 doesn't seem worth the money. Blackswift's true value is perhaps more as a stepping stone to something better.

Unless, of course, you're of the opinion that the something better already exists, and this is merely a billion-dollar coverup. ®

*The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
MARS NEEDS OCEANS to support life - and so do exoplanets
Just being in the Goldilocks zone doesn't mean there'll be anyone to eat the porridge
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.