The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) announced Tuesday successful completion of captive carry tests of two variants of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) and are ready to proceed to first free-flight testing within the calendar year. The joint effort seeks to develop and demonstrate critical technologies to enable an effective and affordable air-launched hypersonic cruise missile.
HAWC contractors Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies have each tested advanced air vehicle configurations that promise to achieve and sustain efficient hypersonic flight. Their upcoming flight tests will focus on hydrocarbon scramjet-powered propulsion and thermal management techniques to enable prolonged hypersonic cruise, in addition to affordable system designs and manufacturing approaches.
The HAWC program, since inception, has been executed as a joint program between DARPA and the USAF. In addition, DARPA is working in cooperation with military services and agencies, including the Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Navy, and NASA to validate, and eventually transition key technologies. The extensive flight data collected is intended to increase the confidence in air-breathing hypersonic systems and reduce the risks to potential future acquisition programs across the U.S. government.
In the 1990s, NASA developed an experimental unmanned hypersonic aircraft called the X-43. The first plane in the series, the X-43A, was a single-use vehicle, of which three were built. The first X-43A was destroyed after malfunctioning in flight in 2001. Each of the other two flew successfully in 2004, setting speed records, with the scramjets operating for approximately 10 seconds followed by 10-minute glides and intentional crashes into the ocean. Plans for more planes in the X-43 series have been suspended or canceled.