Hypersonic flight a work in progress


The Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 goes really fast // DARPA image

The test flight of a hypersonic unmanned aerial vehicle over the Pacific Ocean did not go as planned.

For the second time, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency lost control of the experiment before it was over, tweeting nine minutes into the flight that scientists had lost telemetry with the fastest aircraft ever built.

Here’s how DARPA explains it:

“Here’s what we know,” said Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz, DARPA HTV-2 program manager and PhD in aerospace engineering.  “We know how to boost the aircraft to near space.  We know how to insert the aircraft into atmospheric hypersonic flight.  We do not yet know how to achieve the desired control during the aerodynamic phase of flight.  It’s vexing; I’m confident there is a solution. We have to find it.”

“Prior to flight, the technical team completed the most sophisticated simulations and extensive wind tunnel tests possible.  But these ground tests have not yielded the necessary knowledge.  Filling the gaps in our understanding of hypersonic flight in this demanding regime requires that we be willing to fly,” said DARPA Director Regina Dugan. “In the April 2010 test, we obtained four times the amount of data previously available at these speeds.  Today more than 20 air, land, sea and space data collection systems were operational.  We’ll learn. We’ll try again. That’s what it takes.”

DARPA says it’s back to the drawing board for researchers to comb through data and see what went wrong during the flight.

If you are worried this thing is going to end up leveling your house in the next few minutes, fear not. DARPA says the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 has an auto-off that will cause it to ditch in the Pacific when it looses contact.


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