Feeds

US air force has new scramjet hypersonic plane plans

Son of Blackswift, grandson of SR-71 Blackbird spy plane

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Who remembers the Blackswift – the planned hypersonic successor to the legendary SR-71 Blackbird spy plane of Cold War fame? The Blackswift was intended to take off and land from a runway like a normal plane and achieve speeds of Mach 6 on scramjet propulsion (comfortably eclipsing its illustrious turbo/ramjet predecessor's Mach 3.5) – and carry out a barrel roll while doing so.

Unfortunately for lovers of spiffy hyperplanes, the Blackswift (aka Falcon HTV-3X, as seen above) never got off the drawing board. Its funding was cut by sceptical politicoes back in 2008, and since then the US military has had to content itself with the missile-style WaveRider testbed. The WaveRider will not develop into a reusable aircraft: it is released at height from a B-52 bomber, accelerates to Mach 4.5 using a rocket booster, and then lights up its scramjet to accelerate – its designers hope – to Mach 6. In its only live test so far, however, the WaveRider topped out at Mach 5 in what was described as a partial success.

From a military point of view, the idea of hypersonic scramjet missiles is mildly interesting, though somewhat marginal: after all, if a warhead really needs to get somewhere in a hurry, one can simply fire it out of the atmosphere on a multistage space rocket (aka Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) and so avoid all the problems of high speed in an atmosphere.

But in civilian life we might like to move from having to use expensive, throwaway multistage rockets every time we want to put something into space. We might also like our orbital launch vehicles, as well as being much more reusable than a rocket stack or a Space Shuttle package, to use atmospheric oxygen in place of some or all of the huge amounts of oxidiser that rockets must carry to burn their fuel with. Also, we'd like to avoid the huge expense and trouble involved in pointing heavy vehicles vertically up into the sky for launch – we'd like runway takeoff as well as runway landing.

That's why people found the Blackswift exciting: while it was never intended to reach the Mach-25-equivalent speeds needed to achieve orbit, it was going to be a big step forward from the SR-71, previously the benchmark for sustained, practical-ish high-speed air breathing flight from a runway. Like its illustrious forebear, the Blackswift was to burn relatively normal JP-7 jet fuel rather than impractical, dangerous, bulky hydrogen; like the Blackbird, it was to take off and land on a runway and make no use of throwaway booster rockets to get up to ignition speed*.

And that's why today is an exciting day, because news has arrived that Blackswift is not dead after all. The US Air Force, we learn from Aviation Week, has revived the aspiration for a reusable, hydrocarbon-fuelled runway hyperplane under the new name "High-Speed Reusable Flight Research Vehicle" (HSRFRV). Lovers of hyperplanes will need to be patient, however, as the USAF intends to take a cautious path toward building the new Blackswift; it is not expected to fly until 2021, following years of trials and tests with WaveRider-derived missile-style weapon carriers.

These early tests – which might lead to a hypersonic scramjet missile that could fit into the weapons bay of a B-2 stealth bomber – would prove the main new technology required to beat the SR-71 Blackbird: that is, hydrocarbon-burning scramjets. The Blackbird was propelled down the runway and up to high speed by two hefty afterburning turbojets which were mounted inside cunning nacelles fitted with a retractable spike. At high supersonic speed, these nacelles functioned as ramjets and the turbojets nested within them were superseded, effectively acting as fuel injectors for the ramjet combustion chambers.

But a regular ramjet, even when travelling supersonically itself, slows down the flow of air through its combustion chamber to subsonic speed in order to avoid blowing out the flame. As speed climbs through the low Mach numbers this causes unacceptable levels of drag to build up, which is why the SR-71 couldn't beat Mach 3.5 or so.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
India's MOM Mars mission makes final course correction
Mangalyaan probe will feel the burn of orbital insertion on September 24th
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
'Duck face' selfie in SPAAAACE: Rosetta's snap with bird comet
Probe prepares to make first landing on fast-moving rock
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.