The Pentagon boffins have been keeping mum, but the DoD's fiscal year 2009 budget request lifts the lid on Blackswift - DARPA's prototype hypersonic aircraft. Formerly the Falcon HTV-3X, and being designed by Lockheed's Skunk Works, the unmanned Blackswift is intended to take off conventionally on turbojet power, transition to scramjets, cruise at Mach 6 for an extended period, then return to a runway landing. If it succeeds, Blackswift will be a worthy successor to the Skunk Works' Blackbird.
Sharon Weinberger at Wired's Danger Room was first to blow Blackswift's cover, and in January alerted us to an InsideDefense story that DARPA was to seek $750 million for the demonstration programme. DARPA's FY2009 request is for $70 million on top of the $35 million to be spent in FY2008. Here's what DARPA's budget documentation has to say:
"The Blackswift Test Bed program will develop an extended duration hypersonic test bed which will allow for the study of tactics for a hypersonic airplane that includes a runway take-off, Mach 6 cruise and runway landing. This test bed is an evolution of the reusable Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle developed under the Falcon program.
"Key technologies that will be demonstrated include efficient aerodynamic shaping for high lift to drag, lightweight and durable (reusable) high-temperature materials and thermal management techniques including active cooling, autonomous flight control, and turbine-based combined cycle propulsion.
"It is envisaged that flying this hypersonic aircraft test bed in a relevant, flight environment will permit the futire development of enhanced-capability reusable high-speed vehicles for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, strike and other national need missions. This program will transition to the Air Force following completion of flight-testing."
DARPA's Falcon programme continues, with two unpowered, rocket-boosted HTV-2 hypersonic test vehicles scheduled to be flown in FY09 to pave the way for Blackswift. The Skunk Works, meanwhile, is to complete the Blackswift preliminary design and ground test the integrated high-speed turbojet and scramjet propulsion system by the end of FY09. No news yet on when Blackswift might fly, but it should look like this...