Home Air DARPA’s Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept aces 3rd flight test

DARPA’s Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept aces 3rd flight test

HAWC rendering
DARPA graphic of the HAWC design

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) program to develop an air-breathing hypersonic weapon has completed another successful flight test, the agency has revealed.

The Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), a missile program pursued in partnership with the US Air Force, completed the free flight in early July.

This is the second demonstration vehicle built by Raytheon Technologies to meet test objectives.

The first Raytheon flight was in September 2021. It was followed by success with a vehicle configuration developed in cooperation with Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne this April.

According to DARPA, this second flight of Raytheon’s HAWC design leveraged data collected during the 2021 flight.

After release from an aircraft, the first stage boosted the vehicle to the expected scramjet ignition envelope. From there the missile’s Northrop Grumman scramjet engine fired up and propelled the cruiser to speeds greater than Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound) for more than 300 nautical miles and reaching altitudes higher than 60,000 feet.

“This most recent test allowed exploration of more of the flight and scramjet engine operating envelopes,” Andrew “Tippy” Knoedler, HAWC program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “DARPA demonstrations are always about learning, whether it’s in the interest of feasibility or practicality, and this time we certainly got new information that will further improve performance.”

Air-breathing vehicles use air captured from the atmosphere to achieve sustained propulsion. The speed and maneuverability of such hypersonic cruise missiles allow both evasion of defenses and quick strikes.

“The Navy and Air Force will have access to the data we’ve collected as they make development decisions for future high-speed weapons,” said Knoedler.

The HAWC flight test data will help validate affordable system designs and manufacturing approaches that will field air-breathing hypersonic missiles to warfighters in the near future.

The HAWC trial follows a series of successes with hypersonic weapon trials over the past few months for the US. The Air Force’s AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) finally completed a successful flight test in May this year after a string of failures, repeating the achievement two months later.

Operational Fires (OpFires), another DARPA-led program aimed at demonstrating the feasibility of using ubiquitous US military trucks to launch hypersonic payloads from the Palletized Load System family of vehicles also completed a successful first flight this summer at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.