img pdf


The Blackswift was a proposed aircraft capable of hypersonic flight designed by the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, Boeing, and ATK.

The USAF states “The Falcon Blackswift flight demonstration vehicle will be powered by a combination turbine engine and ramjet, an all-in-one power plant. The turbine engine accelerates the vehicle to around Mach 3 before the ramjet takes over and boosts the vehicle up to Mach 6.” Dr. Stephen Walker, the Deputy Director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, will be coordinating the project. He told the USAF website,

I will also be communicating to Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney on
how important it is that we get the technical plan in place ...  I'm
trying to build the bridge at the beginning of the program -- to
get the communication path flowing.

The Falcon program has announced the Mach 6 horizontal take-off Blackswift/HTV-3X. It is also launching the HTV-2 off the top of a rocket booster. Falcon seems to be converging from two directions, on the ultimate goal of producing a hypersonic aircraft which can take off and land from a runway in the USA, and be anywhere in the world in an hour or two. Falcon is methodically proceeding toward a Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle. Dr. Walker said,

We need to fly some hypersonic vehicles -- first the expendables,
then the reusables -- in order to prove to decision makers that
this isn't just a dream... We won't overcome the skepticism until
we see some hypersonic vehicles flying.

In October 2008 it was announced that HTV-3X or Blackswift did not receive needed funding in the fiscal year 2009 defense budget and had been canceled. The Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle program will continue with reduced funding.

$750 Million For Hypersonics

Posted by Bill Sweetman at 1/25/2008 6:41 AM CST

More reports suggest that the FY2009 budget will indeed include money for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) hypersonic demonstrator, named Blackswift. Ares and our colleagues over at Danger Room have been covering this since mid-2007 and the outlines have now emerged clearly.

It’s a $750 million program to produce a small unmanned demonstrator - F-16-size or smaller - that will be able to fly off a runway, get to Mach 6 or higher, decelerate and land under power, using relatively conventional fuel. The key goal is not the speed so much as the combination of speed and utility: the Blackswift does not need air launch or rocket boost, burn special fuel or land in a high-speed glide. DARPA’s videos even show it taxiing under its own power.

Sharon Weinberger over at Danger Room is skeptical, with the often heard line that “hypersonics are the future of aerospace - and always will be.” But in the current issue of DTI, I interview Boeing’s George Muellner - and he says exactly the same thing, but goes on to suggest that things are changing, with emerging propulsion and material technologies that work. Boeing’s been instrumental in hydrocarbon scramjet demos.

Indeed, Blackswift is not like older hypersonic designs. It’s skinnier for a start, because JP has higher energy density than cryogenics. The engines have the inward-turning inlets developed by Fred Billig and being pursued by Aerojet, and are lighter than square-section scramjets.

Acceleration to ramjet/scramjet speeds is accomplished with jet engines, using the same technology as the RATTLRS supersonic missile demonstrator.

The biggest debate to come: is this like the F-35B, that is, a great technology, but expensive and of uncertain utility? Advocates will argue that high-and-fast is a good capability to have in hand in case some wily individual negates stealth. Critics will say that the more pressing need is for persistent surveillance with stealthy platforms, and that if you do need one-pass high-speed recce, why not do it with an air-launched tactical satellite or a boost-glide vehicle, like the one which Northrop Grumman’s Scaled Composites unit…

…is actually building. And note the shift to a more aerodynamically efficient glider shape in the latest design.

USAF Revives Blackswift Hypersonic-Like Plan
Jan 12, 2011
By Guy Norris
Los Angeles

The U.S. Air Force is studying a hypersonic road map which calls for development of ambitious high-speed weapons and a high-speed reusable flight research vehicle (HSRFRV), slightly larger than the Darpa-led Blackswift Mach 6 demonstrator cancelled in 2008.

Both high-speed elements emerged from a government-industry workshop meeting in Washington DC held on Dec. 8-9, and covered development priorities designed to maintain the recent impetus in hypersonics gained with the X-51A WaveRider and to some extent the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle and HTV-2 hypersonic test.

The plan, discussed by Steven Walker, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for science, technology and engineering, at the recent AIAA Aerospace Sciences conference in Orlando, Fla., includes parallel development paths towards both hypersonic weapons and the reusable testbed.

The weapons path would be relatively fast-track, with development of a demonstrator over five years and first flight by October 2016. Three major options for the demonstrator include an \u201cX-51-like\u201d vehicle that would, like the WaveRider, be air-launched from a B-52. A second option would cover development of a \u201ctactically-compliant\u201d high-speed version that could be carried by internally-carried by the Northrop Grumman B-2, and externally by the Lockheed Martin F-35. A third option, also involving a B-2/F-35 capable launch, would be an all-new vehicle configuration.

The more advanced element of the road map is Walker\u2019s call for a re-usable demonstrator incorporating a turbine-based combined cycle (TBCC), as well as the ability to take-off and land on a runway. As with the Blackswift project, the HSRFRV\u2019s TBCC will combine a high-Mach turbojet with a dual-mode ramjet/scramjet, the two sharing a common inlet and nozzle. Unlike Blackswift\u2019s TBCC, however, which was designed to power the demonstrator from takeoff to a very short period of five-minutes at Mach 6 cruise and back, the HSRFRV appears to be aimed at more ambitious goals.

Walker says the proposed vehicle will have the capability for up to 15 minutes at Mach 4 plus. In addition it will have limited duration at higher Mach numbers. Mindful of the pitfalls that have swallowed up so many previous hypersonic goals, not the least of them the X-30 National Aerospace Plane (NASP), the plan calls for a steady development schedule towards a first flight in October 2021. Walker says \u201cthe team feels if the money is available we can get there\u201d.

Speaking to Aviation Week, Air Force Research Laboratory X-51A program manager Charles Brink says \u201cthe Air Force, under Steve\u2019s leadership, has been doing a good job of herding all the cats, and coming up with a more streamlined, coherent high-speed vehicle roadmap.\u201d The completion of the X-51A, he says, will provide data that \u201cplays into the rules and tools development\u201d for use in the following weapons and platforms developments. Brink adds that the Air force is aiming to conduct the second attempted flight of the X-51A in late March, having abandoned a potential window this month owing to unavailability of a B-52 launch aircraft.

However, despite converging with national priority development goals outlined by support groups such as the U.S. Hypersonics Industry Team, some have expressed caution over the plan. AIAA president and former Air Force Chief Scientist Mark Lewis believes more emphasis should be placed on building-up experience using \u201cweaponized\u201d X-51s. Speaking to Aviation Week he says, \u201cthe X-51 is an important step towards a potential high-speed weapon. Four flights is too few, and we should put more funding into more flights and build-off that platform. To me the logical step is to push out to multiple minutes of flight time \u2013 15 and 30 mins \u2013 and work towards an operational system. You don\u2019t have to have a turbine to do this,\u201d he adds. \u201cBe bold, but be realistic in that reach. If not you risk going back to a NASP-like failure,\u201d he warns.