Program officials framed the new flight as a major milestone in the hypersonic program, which aims to conduct military operations at swifter speeds and with higher effectiveness compared to what’s currently available.
A press release from Lockheed noted the vehicle reached an altitude of 65,000 feet (nearly 19,812 meters), which is double the cruising altitude of a typical commercial flight. The vehicle will “address rapidly emerging threats in the global security arena,” John Clark, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, said in his company’s statement.
The program is seeking to assess feasibility, effectiveness and affordability across a series of flight demonstrations, and is by no means the first effort by U.S. military officials to work on hypersonic systems, either crewed or uncrewed.
DARPA and the U.S. Air Force are jointly working together on funding and supporting the HAWC program. Raytheon and Northrop Grumman together disclosed $200 million in funding for the project in 2019, while Lockheed Martin received nearly $1 billion in 2018, according to DefenseNews.com.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced the hypersonic weapons test on April 5. It was the second flight for the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) programme, following a September 2021 test by Raytheon Technologies, according to DARPA officials.
“We are still analyzing flight test data, but are confident that we will provide the U.S. Air Force and Navy with excellent options to diversify the technology available for their future missions,” said Andrew Knoedler, DARPA’s HAWC program manager for the tactical technology office, in the statement.
A selection of other programs of hypersonic speeds include the 1950s-era X-20 Dyna-Soar that was designed to launch on a rocket, the FALCON hypersonic program (short for Force Application and Launch from CONtinental United States) of the early 2000s and Blackswift, which was later canceled.