High-Speed Air Vehicles Designed for Rapid Global Reach
High-Speed Air Vehicles Designed for Rapid
Michael P. Kleiman, Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate
Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico -- (AFPN) January
27, 2006 -- For an aircraft to achieve hypersonic speeds, ranging from 6,000 to
15,000 mph (Mach 9 to Mach 22), and reach altitudes between 100,000 to 150,000
feet, it needs an airframe structure designed to survive intense heat and
Artist'st drawing of the Mach 20
Courtesy: Russ Partch
Such technology is in
development by scientists and engineers with the Falcon hypersonic technology
vehicle, or HTV, program.
Started in 2003, the joint Air
Force and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency endeavor consists of two
objectives: to develop hypersonic technology for a glided or powered system and
advance small, low-cost and responsive launch vehicles.
Other partners participating in
the program include NASA, the Space and Missile Systems Center, Sandia National
Laboratories and the Air Force Research Laboratory's air vehicles and space
Both AFRL organizations have been working on the project's hypersonic technology
vehicle portion here, specifically focusing on technologies for the glided
"We have made great progress and are on track for the first glided hypersonic
test vehicle flight in 2007," said Russ Partch, the Falcon HTV-1 manager. "It
will enable a revolutionary capability to quickly respond to events anywhere
around the world."
Planned for a less than one-hour
flight in September 2007, the
Falcon HTV-1 is set to complete its inaugural voyage over the Pacific Ocean.
Attaining Mach 19, the vehicle will briefly exit the Earth's atmosphere and
re-enter flying between 19 and 28 miles above the planet's surface.
Demonstrating hypersonic glide technology and setting the stage for HTV-2
represent the primary focus of the lower risk, lower performance initial flight.
"This is a very unique vehicle.
During the early part of the flight, it acts like a spacecraft. In the middle
phase, it re-enters the atmosphere like the space shuttle, and in the latter
stage, it flies like an aircraft," Mr. Partch said. "It is an interesting mix of
challenges and technologies."
For the second demonstration,
scheduled for 2008 or 2009, the Falcon HTV-2 will feature a different structural
design, enhanced controllability and higher risk performance factors during its
high-speed journey. Like its predecessor, the system will reach Mach 22 and then
finish its one-hour plus mission over the Pacific Ocean.
On the other hand, the third and
final Falcon HTV, slated for 2009, will be a departure from the previous
demonstrations. The reusable hypersonic glider will lift off from NASA's Wallops
Flight Facility at Wallops Island, Va., and then more than an hour later, be
recovered in the Atlantic Ocean.
In addition, the HTV-3, flying at Mach 10, will be designed to achieve high
aerodynamic efficiency and to validate external heat barrier panels that will be
"The HTVs will prove technologies for global reach vehicles that can get a
payload to the area of interest quickly in support of the joint warfighter," Mr.
Currently, program staff at the space vehicles directorate are helping develop a
thermal protection system for the HTV structure to withstand 3,000-degree
temperatures and incredible exterior pressures, 25 times more than those
experienced by the space shuttle. An important component of this critical
technology, the all-carbon aeroshell, must keep from being crushed or burned up
in this environment. To keep the vehicle interior cool, an advanced multilayer
insulation is being created for long flights. Researchers are also designing
tools to enhance HTV navigation and maneuverability for robust aerodynamic
"We are now starting to build the HTV-1's critical flight hardware components,"
Mr. Partch said. "The entire test vehicle will be integrated at the Lockheed
Martin Corporation's facility in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania."
With its initial flight vehicle project progressing rapidly, the Falcon HTV
program is poised to meet the challenges of achieving unprecedented hypersonic
technology validation in flight and demonstrating operationally responsive space
lift. The results of these three experimental flights will have a significant
impact in the development of future military delivery platforms and launch
(Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service)