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

Rain returns during the work week
Rain returns during the work week

We’ll see a little bit more sunshine today but once again, passing clouds and filtered sun is expected, according to Storm Center 7 Meteorologist Brett Collar. It will be a notch warmer with highs in the middle 60s. A dry day today and milder Rain returns later Monday Rain expected Tuesday-early Wednesday Tonight: Partly cloudy skies are...
What is Earth Day? 5 things to know
What is Earth Day? 5 things to know

Sunday is Earth Day 2018, and more than one billion people across the globe are expected to celebrate with environmentally friendly events. But what exactly is Earth Day? Here's what you need to know: >> Read more trending news  The first Earth Day celebration took place 48 years ago, in 1970, after a devastating oil spill in America brought...
Two-vehicle accident causes I-75 shutdown for nearly 3 hours in Dayton
Two-vehicle accident causes I-75 shutdown for nearly 3 hours in Dayton

All of Interstate 75 is now open after a vehicle accident caused a nearly three hour shutdown. The left two lanes at northbound Interstate 75 are open between State Route 4 and Stanley Avenue after a two-vehicle accident shut the road down for nearly three hours. The right lane remains closed. Northbound Interstate 75 is closed between State Route...
Dayton woman loses 2nd Chihuahua to neighbor’s dogs 
Dayton woman loses 2nd Chihuahua to neighbor’s dogs 

A Chihuahua was mauled to death Saturday afternoon by a larger dog owned by a neighbor. The 1-year-old dog named Ace was chained outside shortly after 12:30 p.m. when a dog, also named Ace, came from across the street in the 5300 block of Dushore Drive and ripped the smaller dog off the chain and ran with it in its mouth. After the larger dog&rsquo...
Student of the Week Urbana High School
Student of the Week Urbana High School

Name: Cassidy James School: Urbana High School Grade: 12 Age: 18 Extra-curricular: Softball, soccer and basketball Claim to fame/honors: Art Words you live by: “Every little bit helps.” Toughest challenge: Getting through senior year Biggest influence: My mom School-day rituals: Get up, eat breakfast, learn, go to practice, then come home...
More Stories