Hypersonic research could lead to future spy drone


The Air Force Research Laboratory has awarded a $9.8 million contract to the University of Dayton Research Institute to develop materials able to withstand the extremes of hypersonic flight.

The Air Force could use the advanced composites in a high-flying unmanned reusable reconnaissance air vehicle by the 2030s, according to Robert Mercier, chief engineer for AFRL’s high speed systems division in the Aerospace Systems Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“We’re looking for something that will give us more airplane-like operations,” he said. “In our research portfolio, we’re looking at ways to do more frequent and affordable flying of hypersonic systems.”

Flying at five times the speed of sound – the barrier to hypersonic flight – or faster, stresses materials with both high temperatures and pressures, researchers say.

RELATED: Hypersonic vehicle hits over 3,300 mph, started at Wright-Patt

Speeding at up to Mach 6, Mercier compared the hypersonic concept cruising at 80,000 to 100,000 feet to a former reconnaissance drone, dubbed D-21, but “on steroids.” The intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance drone flew in the range of Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound.

A manned version of a future hypersonic vehicle might follow, he said.

The latest research aims to develop more durable, less labor-intensive materials than, for example, the space shuttle which had thermal tiles covering the space plane to protect it from heat.

RELATED: Drones, lasers, hypersonic weapons will be ‘game-changers’

The three-year contract with UDRI will explore the use of ceramic matrix composites to withstand the pressures in laboratory tests, researchers said. Hypersonics is one of the key technologies the research institute has targeted.

“The goal is to try to inch forward so we can get things flying in the near future,” said Steven E. Olson, a UDRI researcher working on the project.

UDRI has experimented with hypersonic materials off and on for decades, and the contract is a renewed push, he said.

The materials could have both military and commercial uses, he said.

RELATED: Base unveils one of the world’s largest super computers

“Designing vehicles that can survive extreme environmental stresses is critical but challenging, requiring unique structural configurations and advanced materials,” he said in a statement.

UDRI will work with the University of Tennessee and Purdue University on aerodynamic modeling and wind tunnel testing.

The Air Force joined with NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency in hypersonic X-51 Waverider flight tests. The experimental air vehicle shaped like a missile was launched off a B-52 and reached speeds over Mach 5 over the Pacific. The tests ended in 2013.

“We learned a bit from the X-51 but we’re really pushing (beyond) that,” Mercier said.

RELATED: Air Force research hits commercial market



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

3 police officers help man in distress: ‘God puts us ... where he needs us,’ one says
3 police officers help man in distress: ‘God puts us ... where he needs us,’ one says

Providence was evident in a trio of law enforcement officers who came to the aid of a man stricken earlier this month while dining with his wife in Tipp City. The man, himself a nurse, became ill Jan. 11 at Hinders Sports Bar & Grill.  The three officers -- Miami Twp. Detective Dan Wessling, Tipp City Sgt. Marc Basye and West Carrollton Officer...
What will happen to the historic Station Road schoolhouse? Township, would-be owners, neighbors involved
What will happen to the historic Station Road schoolhouse? Township, would-be owners, neighbors involved

Despite a Butler County judge’s ruling, the battle over the historic Station Road schoolhouse continues, with the owners of the Community Montessori School filing an appeal with the 12th District Court of Appeals in their quest to acquire the building. “We’ve appealed, and we’re continuing to move it forward,” Montessori...
Solution met between Dayton food pantry and city officials
Solution met between Dayton food pantry and city officials

With God’s Grace, a nonprofit food pantry was approved to operate again after a solution was met during a zoning administrative meeting Monday. The pantry, located at 622 Springfield St., will begin operations Jan. 31 under new plans. “When I came out of the meeting, I felt relieved because I know that we got a solution. Our families are...
Five people are missing after Oklahoma rig explosion
Five people are missing after Oklahoma rig explosion

Five people are missing after a fiery explosion ripped through an eastern Oklahoma drilling rig on Monday, sending plumes of black smoke into the air and leaving a derrick crumpled on the ground, emergency officials said. More than 20 employees were at the natural gas well site when the blast was reported around 8:45 a.m., Pittsburg County Sheriff...
Arrest ends standoff with police, SWAT in Greenville
Arrest ends standoff with police, SWAT in Greenville

UPDATE @ 7:35 p.m.: A person has been taken into custody from the SWAT search of a home on 12th Street.  Police and the special tactics team had been at the residence, in the 300 block, at least 3 hours, a resident tells us.  We're working to find out more details about today's standoff and arrest. There is a standoff occurring at this hour...
More Stories