Hypersonic flight is defined as anything about Mach 5, meaning five times the speed of sound or 3,600 miles per hour. To put it into perspective, a jet flying at hypersonic speeds could cross the continental United States in about half an hour.
Lockheed is working on breakthroughs in new thermal protection systems, innovative aerodynamic shapes, navigation guidance and control improvements, and long-range communication capabilities.
Based on lessons learned from HTV-2, Lockheed is currently supporting two new customer efforts in hypersonics:
1. the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept, or HAWC, and
2. the Tactical Boost Glide vehicle
Lockheed’s secretive Skunkworks arms is working with Aerojet Rocketdyne to mature technologies for HAWC, a joint DARPA-US Air Force effort, according to Skunkworks executive vice president Rob Weiss. Lockheed’s HAWC uses a booster to get up to altitude and then fires a “scramjet” engine that funnels in oxygen from the outside air to reach upwards of Mach 5.
Lockheed will submit a proposal for the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept later this month, and expects a contract award in the middle of the year, Weiss said. A demonstrator aircraft will fly in the 2018 timeframe.
Marillyn Hewson said Lockheed's engineers are on the verge of making technology such as scramjet engines, which have been talked about for years, a reality. This illustration shows the design for the SR-72's engine. The plane will also have a 'warm structure' that will heat up during flight
Hewson also showed an image of a third hypersonic concept, similar to the HAWC but with a recoverable “turbine-based combined cycle” engine, Weiss explained. The HAWC’s booster is designed for a single use, he stressed. There is not yet a DARPA project for this capability, and Lockheed still needs to mature the propulsion technology, he said.
Lockheed estimates it will cost less than $1 billion to develop, build and fly a reusable hypersonic demonstrator aircraft the size of an F-22s than $1 billion.
Lockheed sees a hypersonic weapon capability in the 2020s, and a hypersonic air vehicle – manned or unmanned – in the 2030s
"The technology could also enable hypersonic passenger flights, and even easier access to space," she said. The question is whether there's an appetite for such an aircraft right now. "Now is the right time," Hewson insisted. "We know we must continue to disrupt ourselves before our competitors do."