Recently the US media created a hoopla and hand-wringing with the revelation that Russia had a new-generation fighter jet, the MIG-29, China’s new J-20 stealth plane could fly circles around the Lockheed F-117a.
Well the Russians and Chinese better wipe the smug looks off their faces because the US is about ready to push the envelope past the breaking point. Actually, with the revolutionary military aircraft “Blackswift” there might not even be an envelope remaining.
Hypersonic aircraft gets to any part of globe in 2 hours
According to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—an arm of the Pentagon—the US already tested a new type of hypersonic atmospheric missiles during 2010. It’s a futuristic version of the old German V-1 rocket bomb carrying a 1,000 pound warhead and able to hit a target within a 3,400 mile radius.
The Blackswift has had many previous incarnations.
During 2001 to 2002 flight tests were conducted at the Tonapah Test Range in Nevada. NASA and an unnamed contractor tested the hypersonic aircraft X-43A. Industry insiders claim the craft exceeded Mach-7, seven times the speed of sound. The tests, however, ultimately ended in failure as the X-43A crashed on takeoff July 2001.
Back to the drawing board
Undaunted by the failure, DARPA carried on the research. It began working on a new hypersonic aircraft named Falcon. Billions of dollars were invested in its technological development only to see the project thrown into an indefinite hiatus because of the global financial crisis during late 2008.
Falcon was an interesting prototype. DARPA changed the mission profile on the platform seeking to develop an advanced, unmanned aircraft capable of achieving speeds of Mach-6 and acting as a launching vehicle for space craft. Another part of the military specs called for Falcon to be employed as a stealth reconnaissance plane virtually undetectable to any modern air defense system. One last capability—thrown in almost as an afterthought to solidify the justification of the program—was the capability of modification transforming Falcon into a hypersonic bomber.
As the project advanced, the name Falcon was dropped and replaced by Blackswift.
The resurrection and redemption of Blackswift
Although some in the military-industrial complex believed Blackswift would never again see the light of day—or Congressional tax dollar funding—the project was resurrected.
Now the platform will incorporate parts of the famous Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird and Boeing’s unmanned scramjet, the X-51a WaveRider.
Building on an amalgam of several successful aerospace breakthroughs, DARPA is re-engineering the Blackswift with design innovations borrowed from the X-51a, the HTV-1 hypersonic drone and several other exotic platforms including the military’s orbital, reusable X-37B spacecraft.
Feeling the heat of Russian and Chinese competition, DARPA and its contractor partners hope to test the first advanced prototypes of Blackswift no later than 2016.
According to aerospace experts familiar with the project, the Pentagon is hoping to include the hypersonic super-plane as part of the nation’s military aircraft assets sometime between 2020 to 2025.