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PARIS: Aerojet Rocketdyne unveils hypersonic scramjet technology

If anybody here at Paris feels the need for speed, it's Aerojet president Warren Boley. Coming off last week's completion of parent Gencorp's $550 million acquisition of Rocketdyne from United Technologies, Boley is looking at a full product pipeline - with a very long run of prospects in ultra-high-speed flight.

By the end of the year, Boeing and Raytheon will both have flown Mach 4 air-launched missiles featuring Aerojet's ramjet technology. Those hypersonic missiles - which will eventually be able to strike targets on the ground or in the air, including cruise missiles heading toward US warships - will fly on every US fighter, Boley predicts.

Sales forecasts are so buoyant, that, he claims: "Hypersonics will be bigger than Aerojet."

"America is at an inflection point", says Boley, " where speed either augments or replaces stealth. The commander will have an option that will change warfare."

And, he adds: "Mach 4 is to current missiles what the machine gun was to the Winchester rifle."

For more civil purposes, Paris to Sydney in 2h is still years away, but Boley is confident that the new Aerojet Rocketdyne will get the industry there. Ultimately, he says, the combination of Aerojet's rocket engine technology and M4 ramjet capability with the even faster Rocketdyne scramjets recently validated by a successful air-drop test of Boeing's X-51 demonstrator will create the M6 airliner so long dreamed of by transportation visionaries.

Ramjets exploit the shape of their inlet to compress air for combustion without the need for the heavy fans and turbines of a normal turbofan. And, as M4 weapons demonstrate, they're much faster - but they need to be able to achieve supersonic speed before they can work. In turn, scramjets - supersonic combustion ramjets - turn out even greater speeds by performing that trick with supersonic inlet air, but need to reach about M4 before they switch on.

Scramjets, says Boley, "are like lighting a match in a hurricane," but a rocket-to-ramjet-to scramjet ensemble is now a real possibility.

Long before then, though, the Rocketdyne acquisition will transform Aerojet, says Boley.

The deal gives the company new scale, he says, which will result in $1 billion of cost savings in the 10 years from 2016. And, with Rocketdyne's launch motors history the company can now offer a complete space propulsion package, from ground to in-orbit control and in-space propulsion, as well as an increasingly advanced missile defence systems capability.

One of the most exciting technologies coming through the Aerojet pipeline now is what Boley calls a "game-changing" ability to throttle, extinguish and re-ignite solid rockets. In terms of precise control when targeting fast-moving targets like cruise missiles, "that's a huge new capability in weapons systems," he says.

ON THE UP: Speed has become an important focus for the industry

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