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Test Flight of DARPA’s Hypersonic Plane Ends in Crash

Artist rendition of DARPA's Falcon HTV-2 hypersonic aircraft. Credit: DARPA

The potential to fly anywhere in the world in less than an hour took a nosedive today. The test flight of an unmanned, rocket-launched, Mach 20-capable, maneuverable aircraft called the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2) ended when an anomaly caused loss of signal, and the plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Overseen by DARPA, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, this second test flight of the HTV-2 seemingly started out well, as the Minotaur IV launch vehicle successfully inserted the aircraft into the correct trajectory, and the aircraft transitioned to Mach 20 aerodynamic flight. It flew for 9 minutes until it encountered problems and crashed.

Despite the crash, DARPA said the successful transition “represents a critical knowledge and control point in maneuvering atmospheric hypersonic flight.”

“Here’s what we know,” said Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz, DARPA HTV-2 program manager in a statement put out by DARPA. “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.”
From launch until crash, the flight lasted for about a half an hour.

DARPA’s Falcon is designed to fly anywhere in the world in less than 60 minutes. This capability requires an aircraft that can fly at 13,000 mph, while experiencing temperatures in excess of 3500F.

During the first test flight of HTV-2 on April 23, 2010, telemetry was lost 9 minutes into the flight. A subsequent investigation found that the vehicle encountered unexpected yaw, followed by an uncontrollable roll. The onboard computer then set the vehicle to crash into the ocean.

“In the April 2010 test, we obtained four times the amount of data previously available at these speeds,” said DARPA Director Regina Dugan. “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. Filling the gaps in our understanding of hypersonic flight in this demanding regime requires that we be willing to fly.”

The military had hopes of using this type of super-fast plane to reach problem spots around the world quickly.

DARPA said that in the coming weeks, an independent Engineering Review Board will review and analyze the data collected. This data will inform policy, acquisition and operational decisions for future -hypersonic aircraft of this kind. It’s not clear yet whether any development of Falcon HTV-2 will continue.

This is the second major hypersonic setback of 2011. In June, the Boeing X-51 waverider failed when its scramjet encountered a problem on engine startup.

Source: DARPA

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anonymous August 12, 2011, 12:20 AM

    Hypersonic fighters with mounted energy weapons.

    How fast can this craft deliver hope to a generation of young people? Can these lasers be used to fix America’s decaying infrastructure?

    DARPA may soon find it’s worst enemy is it’s own neglected population.

    • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE August 12, 2011, 12:46 AM

      Like it or not, the fact is that most of mankind’s technological advances have resulted due to the pressure of hot/cold war and the need to throw bigger and heavier stones farther than our enemies – from the Roman catapult to the ultimate ‘stone’ thrower: the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) with Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicles (MIRV).

      • seamus mcdermott August 12, 2011, 5:16 AM

        Oh, so that’s how the cardiac stent came into being….

        • squidgeny August 12, 2011, 9:09 AM

          Good job Ivan used the word “most”, isn’t it, otherwise his face sure would be red!

        • Skip Huffman August 12, 2011, 12:59 PM

          Most cardiac stents are made of titanium. A metal whose properties were first extensively applied to building military aircraft. Would we have the metallurgical knowledge to produce stents without the earlier use of titanium for aircraft? I don’t know, but I strongly suspect the research road would have been longer.

          On the other hand if we could move even a significant portion of military spending into civilian research, many of the worlds ills could be addressed with something other than a bomb.

          On the gripping hand, if we (as in we, the nominally civilized nations) didn’t have a powerful military, the less civilized would quickly overrun us. (As the Greeks discovered with the Romans, the Romans with the Gauls, the Gauls with the Norse….)

          • Tony Lund August 12, 2011, 9:01 PM

            Stents are generally made from Stainless, Titanium, with some Gold and even fabric stents. All of these materials were used on aircraft (even the fabric). But their properties were well understood well before the Wright Brothers ever got their bicycle into the air.

      • Anonymous August 12, 2011, 6:59 PM

        Totally agree; but it still is crazy.

      • Anonymous August 13, 2011, 1:25 PM

        Most of technological advances were only speeded up by pressure of war. Without war and the need to throw stones things like computers would still be developed. So would be the finest piece of technology: the bicycle. Energy-efficient, cheap, good for your body and non-pollutant.

        • IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE August 13, 2011, 6:11 PM

          Without war and the need to throw stones things like computers would still be developed.

          And the most popular computer games are…?

          • Anonymous August 13, 2011, 8:44 PM

            Perhaps the saddle could be improved by those nuclear missile developers..

    • Me Meee August 12, 2011, 1:57 AM

      Hypersonic flight weapons systems will deliver hope ( and export Democracy and Freedom ) to a generation of young people faster than current missiles/bombs etc.

      The lasers, in theory, can be used to fix America’s decaying infrastructure by helping to clear out ( aka destroy ) the old and crumbling infrastructure so new infrastructure can be built in its place. But I cannot see this happening, as current demolition methods are more efficient.

    • Mana Brau August 12, 2011, 7:51 AM

      what lasers would these be? i don’t recall the article mentioning any lasers .. maybe i should read it again?

    • Anonymous August 12, 2011, 4:18 PM

      “How fast can this craft deliver hope to a generation of young people? Can these lasers be used to fix America’s decaying infrastructure?”

      It will probably do neither. Your point?

      Those things must be addressed, but not absolutely *everything* we do can, must, or should be specifically directed to those ends.

      Remember, those same questions could be applied to almost anything reported on this site.

      • Anonymous August 12, 2011, 6:48 PM

        I agree. I just have different thoughts on where the money should go.

        In part, it’s more of a cultural chasm between Canadians and our US counterparts. Many of us feel that building a general sense of goodwill and friendship with the global community is more cost effective and economically tenable then holding a big stick. Not everyone thinks like that, and I understand – but still get frustrated.

        • Anonymous August 13, 2011, 12:36 AM

          Sadly, history continues to prove that not all members of ‘the global community’ have goodwill and friendship as their goal, either…

    • Torbjörn Larsson August 12, 2011, 9:29 PM

      But that is another, and hypothetical, project. The HTV-2 type will likely _be_ the directed energy by itself, as noted by masterscope.

  • Me Meee August 12, 2011, 1:54 AM

    This clearly shows that hypersonic flight is hard.

    But it is by no means impossible.

    We like a good Engineering challenge :)

  • WaxyMary August 12, 2011, 2:09 AM

    Most hypersonic encapsulation envelopes ‘resonate at’ and ‘respond to’ key frequencies which are the factor of the fluid density vs the fluid foil. If you use frequency sweeps from low to the ultrasonic (that is, for that medium) to determine the correct resonating pattern for the ever changing envelope you will be able to affect that envelope in a positive way. This is the testing phase of the program. The interactive skin of the body will require a lot of work to design and build. We need to know how to plan predicatively those minute whole skin and body changes.

    The current method of semi tone vs demi tone at fixed intervals restricts the fluid foil’s best and most favorable path through the fluid. At the speeds being described the air is a fluid is it not, and the fluid dynamics indicate the counter vibration selected matters more than the minor angle of attack changes built in to the air foil body. The fluid is not hot, the vessel is hot, the envelope bleeds heat and the eddies blow back pressure and heat. Do not resist -bend with the wind, ever bending ever blending.

    Changing the body’s response to the fluid it traverses is only half the battle. Changing the fluid’s dynamic to an expected pattern from moment to moment and anticipating those changes needed now from the changes imposed fractions of a second ago for compensation to that modeled dynamic is the needed second half. Tracking the real time interactions and using predictive modeling for control of the fluid interfacing surfaces would be the key.

    “If you can’t see it coming (predict) it you will be prey to the winds.” Words of wisdom from aboriginals maybe but true none the less.

    In other words, design and outfit the body with a skin you can change from instant to instant over a wider range than the limited, fixed mode program currently used.

    The temperature resilience required indicates use of long fiber carbon ceramic scales with distinct sharp control surfaces and the ability to be resonated interdependently, one to another as needed, like flocking behavior. Elongated diamond dimples will be a better texture to work with than smooth or striated (either direction) for air as a dense fluid.

    The trade offs for weight vs durability of the material will determine the specific composition for each area to be covered. The size of the scales will vary as well as the thickness over the length of the air foil’s surfaces. There are more considerations… I am tired now.

    Mary

    • Eric Benz August 12, 2011, 3:35 AM

      “i am tired now”

      i bet! that was a doozy! this last test and the one before it didnt use adaptive surfaces in the way you describe right? or.. well i would imagine we are kinda in the dark as far as some of those details. was it that the craft failed, or just that they lost contact with it? ive heard differing interpretations of what exactly happened. would have loved to see that thing fly past and then smack into the ocean

    • Eric Benz August 12, 2011, 3:35 AM

      “i am tired now”

      i bet! that was a doozy! this last test and the one before it didnt use adaptive surfaces in the way you describe right? or.. well i would imagine we are kinda in the dark as far as some of those details. was it that the craft failed, or just that they lost contact with it? ive heard differing interpretations of what exactly happened. would have loved to see that thing fly past and then smack into the ocean

  • seamus mcdermott August 12, 2011, 4:41 AM

    Ohhh. Sorry. Already spent $350 billion on the Boeing tanker project, and another $388 billion on the Joint Strike Fighter project. Can’t spring for a new fantasy plane this year.

    • Anonymous August 12, 2011, 6:56 AM

      That’s it Kinetic Energy Weapons drop “Anvils from space. Also known as the “Foot” from a really good book, Footfall

      • Anonymous August 12, 2011, 4:20 PM

        Because of the preferred shape for such objects, they’ve also been described as ‘Rods from God.’

      • ITSRUF August 12, 2011, 6:42 PM

        That’s exactly what it is like. There are no lasers or warhead. It impacts with tremendous speed.

    • Rob Hemmings August 13, 2011, 1:25 AM

      Well, if ‘Acme’ make them, the launch site will only exist for precisely one shot! ;o)

      • WaxyMary August 13, 2011, 5:03 PM

        What is your reason to posit that anything Acme will be durable enough to give you that one shot. I mean, come on guy, this is ACME we are talking about here. They live to laugh in your face, they take pride in dashing your pride and joy. Why, if it wasn’t for Acme, we would not have any of the pratfalls, slapstick, meat-headed ideas which give us some of the best cartoon physics!

        So, before you say the folks at Acme make solid dependable NLEOCrowLas (Near-Low Earth Orbit Crowbar Launchers), ask yourself one question… might the results be comedic enough and the timing fit for the current cartoon. If the answer is yes, well then, you have your answer. Ta da!

        Mary

  • Otto M. W. Zee August 12, 2011, 2:40 PM

    General observation: the pitch and roll problem is not new to the design of hypersonic aircraft. The XB-70 Valkyrie and other designs fought with it. These problems appear as not just being aerodynamic but also a thermodynamic…

  • James McEnanly August 13, 2011, 12:01 AM

    Consider that 20 years after the Me 109’a and Gloucester Meteors streaked through the skies of Europe, passenger planes with better versions of the same engines crossed the Atlantic.

    • Anonymous August 13, 2011, 4:10 PM

      ME 262 actually, not ME 109A.

      • Michael Westall August 19, 2011, 9:11 PM

        and just before those was the messerschmidt kommet… and allegedly the horten brothers gotha,flying wing prototype pionneer of the stealth aircraft concept…refered to as that due to its wooden fusilage etc with paintjob to cause high radar absorbency yet if this was the case and the above features made this so,wouldnt the dehavilland mosquito with its full wood construction made in the years earlier than the gotha surely be the rightful owner of this title as its radar return was very low hence its role as pathfinder and nightfighter among many others and could be mistaken for flocks of birds big swans kites etc thus being hard if not impossible to recognise register as what it was and be identified correctly and accurately for interception so i think the mosquito the winner their dont you agree …

  • Lélandi Assis August 13, 2011, 1:20 PM

    the only reason you can comment in this website is due to war. So, stop being hypocrit. Hugs!

  • yang tang August 13, 2011, 2:53 PM

    the government spend money on this investigations and not in the universe

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