Blackswift hyperplane hits trouble in Washington
DARPA Mach 6 porkbarrel logroll dash cash slashed
The most ambitious hypersonic aircraft project known to exist - the Mach-6-barrelroll "Blackswift" proposal - has run into stiff opposition from politicoes in control of Washington purse-strings, according to reports.
A fast blast from the past - the original Blackbird.
Wired magazine noted last night that the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee has recommended that almost half the first chunk of Blackswift's proposed $800m budget be cut, falling into agreement with like-minded sceptics in Congress. Building the Blackswift may be impossible anyway (at least, impossible in a near-future timeframe) and it would be doubly so on a shoestring budget. As one might expect, the plan is being promoted by DARPA, the Pentagon boffination bureau which doesn't even get out of bed until all the other mad scientists have got headaches and gone for a bit of a lie down. Reportedly it is Tony Tether - chief wingnut-prof at DARPA - who insists that Blackswift be able not only to fly at Mach 6, but perform a barrel roll while doing so.
The Capitol Hill crowd don't fully understand why America needs Blackswift, though. Testy senators, having scribbled all over the project's budget with red ink, reportedly said: "It is not clear... whether a hypersonic cruise aircraft ... designed for long-range flight and recovery offers unique capability and operational utility."
Blackswift is fairly plainly intended as a successor to the famous, beautiful SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. The Blackbird used monster afterburning turbojets mounted in cunning retractor-spike nacelles, effectively transforming itself from a normal jet to a ramjet as it accelerated to a blistering Mach 3+. It finally retired in the 1990s.
Sexy as the Blackbird was, however, it had its critics. In order to fit together tightly under the intense heating and expansion produced at operating speed, the superplane was made to be distinctly loose and rattly at normal temperatures. This meant that it would leak jet fuel copiously as it taxied out to take off, and it needed air-to-air refuelling as soon as it got airborne. Then, due to its enormous fuel consumption, it normally needed some more mid-air rendezvouses with tanker planes during its mission - perhaps topping up both before and after a Mach 3 dash along Vietnam's demilitarised zone or wherever.
Thus the Blackbird was surely not the fast-responding asset that its fans sometimes describe. Far from being quicker than a spy satellite to get above a new location of interest, it would often need to wait days while a small fleet of slowpoke tanker planes was positioned in the right places.
It's only a waste of money
until it isn't. It's only theoretical until it isn't. Vision lacking naysayers of today were probably the same narrow minded folks (or their immediate descendents) who said that supersonic aircraft were useless too. The X-1, having finicky rockets for propulsion, couldn't even take off under it's own power. How's that for being completely militarily useless?
Cue decades later-worldwide, every first and second-world nation owns and flies fleets of air-superiority fighters that maintain their security. Three nations (maybe four) make aircraft that *cruise* at above mach speeds. No one with even half a clue would deny the importance of having supersonic aircraft in ones' air force. Now, business executive transport aircraft are readily available that have to be *restricted* to keep from breaking the sound barrier
But, even more important, is the question Mr. Page proposes at the end: How much is hypersonic, Single Stage To Orbit reusable spacelift capability worth? And the answer will be: significantly more than is spent. Especially worldwide. Yanks and Limeys spend the dough and push the envelope, and decades later, just about every significant nation and multinational corporation has the ability to launch and *retrieve* orbital payloads, two or three times a day.
It's not quite Moore's Law, but you can bet that any fickle technological prototype out of government research, that has any commercial value, will become almost commonplace, given time. Aluminum, titanium, the Internet....the list goes on.
Hahahahahah @ AC
GEO is the most ridiculous thing ever. It takes tremendous fuel to deorbit, as mentioned.
But saying that it's less detectable than ICBMs is the most ridiculous thing ever.
Your launcher is in a ~high orbit~. Screw agents, ~everyone~ can see it. All you need a good IR telescope to spot engine firings. And guess what? Being in GEO means you NEVER HAVE TO ADJUST YOUR TELESCOPE. It's always in the same place in the sky.
And then what? You have a LOT more time before the hammer drops. Coming down from GEO can take many, many hours, maybe a day I can't remember. ICBMs are there in a flash, comparatively.
Ditto for GPS sats which orbit at a good altitude and everyone has a very clear idea of how big they're supposed to be. When you start launching 200 ton GPS satellites, EVERYONE is going to notice and you'll have the KGB sending agents to figure out what you're doing. And yes, still high enough that you have to put up a lot of fuel for deorbiting.
There's simply no hiding what you're doing, and it's simply not faster than ICBMs which, MAD aside, can carry any warhead they put on.
Either way, a closer parallel to the goal of orbit bombing as described would be short range cruise missiles launched by the navy. The navy can use nuclear carriers with electric propulsion (which is irrelevant to orbital bombing) and can hit targets anywhere, very very fast, with satellite assistance for photos and GPS to target and guide the missiles.
A tomahawk only costs around a million dollars, beating ICBMs by a mile and orbital bombing by a lightyear.
There's also aircraft can put bombs down anywhere they want, moving targets or not. Take the F-15E for example. It features an IR telescope and laser so that they can track and direct bombs at moving targets or targets that have relocated.
Lastly, I'd like to remind everyone that the US has ant-sat weapons ready to go, China has done it before and while I haven't checked I have to assume that Russia has it ready to go too since, like the US, they've done it ~multiple times~.
In summary, the good systems use satellites extensively to make air, sea and ground based weapons far superior AND more economical AND faster than orbital bombing.
anyway, back to the KC-135Q
the Q shows that some of these Merkin airborne filling stations had to be modified to refuel the Blackbird; the fuel was so waxy it needed preheating in order to get it down the spout to the receiving spy plane.
Only saw a Blackbird live once - for about 10 seconds - landed at St Mawgan (Newquay airport as the grockles now call it) and taxied into a hangar sharpish - breathtakingly wonderfully gorgeous