Friday, June 26, 2015

Hypersonic flight the next frontier for the Air Force

Hypersonic flight the next frontier for the Air Force: Almost 70 years after Chuck Yeager and the Bell X-1 team broke the sound barrier, the Air Force is working to defy the next frontier in speed: hypersonic travel.

Defined as anything traveling above Mach 5, hypersonic flight usually clocks in between 3,800 and 4,000 miles per hour — fast enough to traverse the continental United States in about a half an hour.

Humans have reached those speeds before. NASA's X-15 program in the 1960's was able to reach speeds of Mach 5. And the Space Shuttle — while reentering the Earth's atmosphere and essentially free-falling from orbit — is estimated to reach speeds of Mach 25.

But the Air Force hopes to make the speed more commonplace than a spaceship landing on the planet. The service is looking to better understand and harness hypersonic flight technology to power missiles and — eventually — aircraft with "supersonic combustion ramjet" engines, or "scramjets."

"I think the biggest things that hypersonic and scramjet engines bring to the Air Force is speed. Speed and responsiveness, that's what we're working to create," said Ryan Helbach, an aerospace engineer with the service's Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.