The SR-71 spy plane’s Mach 3 speed record has held up as unbroken for decades.
Yet, there is an innovator in Atlanta, Ga. seeking to rival this with a first-of-its-kind hypersonic vehicle called Quarterhorse now being prepared to fly hypersonic speeds of Mach 5 or greater.
The Hermeus Quarterhorse recently achieved a massive breakthrough transition where it demonstrated the ability to shift from turbo-jet to ramjet propulsion mode to achieve hypersonic speeds.
The breakthrough, detailed in Popular Mechanics, describes the creation of a new turbojet-scramjet hybrid engine capable of achieving and then sustaining hypersonic speeds.
The article suggests Hermeus is working on an unmanned drone but does anticipate being able to transport humans at hypersonic speeds.
This would indeed be paradigm-changing as humans have thus far been unable to travel at hypersonic speeds due to an inability to survive the extreme heat generated by hypersonic flight.
Perhaps breakthrough composite materials or cooling technologies have emerged, allowing such technology to now be “on the horizon,” as it certainly is something that would introduce new tactical dynamics in military conflict.
Could there eventually be a hypersonic transport plane of some kind able to move forces to strategic combat locations at five times the speed of sound? The possibility of such a craft has not been possible until this time.
There will likely first be hypersonic drones and fighter jets setting a precedent for future military applications. The existence of a hypersonic drone such as Quarterhorse would introduce an entirely new sphere of Concept of Operation, depending upon its application, weapons and ability to network.
The Pentagon has long pursued hypersonic drone flight.
Achieving hypersonic drone flight requires innovators and weapons developers to address certain known challenges fundamental to hypersonic flight. Hypersonic weapons projectiles are already here, yet architecting a larger drone to achieve and then sustain hypersonic speeds requires several key technological leaps forward.
For a hypersonic drone platform to accomplish this kind of massive breakthrough, there may be a need for emerging technologies able to handle thermal management or temperature dynamics likely to present massive challenges when it comes to achieving hypersonic flight.
There will also be a need to solidify new levels of air-boundary layer aerodynamic challenges to ensure the airflow surrounding the hypersonic platform remains smooth or “laminar” as opposed to turbulent.
This can be impacted heavily by the ongoing exploration of the optimal shapes, sizes, and weapons configurations proven or known to reduce drag, manage temperatures, and direct airflow.
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.