MBDA France has selected a methane/hydrogen-fuelled dual-mode ramjet/scramjet to power the LEA experimental hypersonic vehicle to be flight tested jointly with Russia. LEA is a follow-on to France's Promethee programme to develop technology for a Mach 8 long-range air-to-ground missile that could eventually replace the country's ASMP air-launched nuclear weapon.

Six air-launched flight tests of the 5m (16.4ft)-long expendable vehicle are planned between 2009 and 2012, to measure the aeropropulsive balance in flight at speeds of M4, M6 and M8. LEA is not a technology demonstration, says MBDA's François Falempin, but a scientific experiment to validate modelling predictions. "We are not trying to achieve positive thrust, but to measure the aeropropulsion balance very accurately," he says.

Mixing methane and hydrogen fuel will increase thrust while improving ignition, says Falempin. Ground testing in France will continue development of combustion chamber technology for a fuel-cooled, variable-geometry scramjet to power a future hypersonic missile, which could be ready for development once the LEA flight tests in Russia are completed in 2012. Further tests on using endothermic fuel to regeneratively cool the engine are planned, says MBDA.

Source: Flight International