U.S. Air Force B-52 Carrier Aircraft Accidentally Dropped Hypersonic Test Missile

U.S. Air Force B-52 Carrier Aircraft Accidentally Dropped Hypersonic Test Missile
B-52 carries the X-51 Hypersonic Vehicle out to the range for launch test. May 1, 2013. Photographer: Bobbi Zapka

on June 9, 2020, Aviation Week reported that U.S. Air Force is investigating hypersonic test missile mishap.

According to the report, the missile is believed to have inadvertently separated from a B-52 carrier aircraft during a captive-carry flight test, according to sources familiar with the evaluation.

The cause of the mishap, which is thought to have involved an aircraft from the 419th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, California, is under investigation.

The Air Force referred questions about the incident to DARPA, but the agency declined to provide any details. “Details of those flight demonstrations are classified,” a DARPA spokesman said.

Aerospace DAILY understands pieces of the instrumented test article were recovered after the accident. The description could suggest the payload inadvertently detached from the B-52 in flight, rather than during ground tests or on the runway.

It also suggests the mishap potentially occurred over land—possibly over a designated test range such as the Edwards Precision Impact Range Area or the nearby Naval Air Weapons Station test range at China Lake—rather than during transit for a wet dress rehearsal or live fire test over the Pacific range.

A scramjet-powered missile developed under the joint DARPA/U.S. Air Force Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program was destroyed in a recent test accident, Aerospace DAILY has learned.

The Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) program is a joint DARPA/U.S. Air Force (USAF) effort that seeks to develop and demonstrate critical technologies to enable an effective and affordable air-launched hypersonic cruise missile. The program intends to emphasize efficient, rapid and affordable flight tests to validate key technologies.

HAWC plans to pursue flight demonstrations to address three critical technology challenge areas or program pillars—air vehicle feasibility, effectiveness, and affordability. Technologies of interest include:

  • Advanced air vehicle configurations capable of efficient hypersonic flight
  • Hydrocarbon scramjet-powered propulsion to enable sustained hypersonic cruise
  • Approaches to managing the thermal stresses of high-temperature cruise
  • Affordable system designs and manufacturing approaches

A May, 2019 report in NavalNews.com by Xavier Vavasseur said that, “Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works team is developing this missile for DARPA, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Lockheed Martin would not disclose too many details, but a representative explained that this new missile draws from experience gained by the company with previous hypersonic projects such as HTV-2, a scale model of which was also present on Lockheed Martin’s booth at SAS 2019.”

While little information has been published from official sources about the ongoing U.S. hypersonic weapons program, there has been significant reporting (and speculation) in the media. The U.S. program is important since both Russia and China claim to have made significant progress in hypersonic weapons during the last five years. Russia claims that their Kh-47M2 Kinzhal or “Dagger” hypersonic missile has been “in service” since December 2017. Russian MiG-31 aircraft modified to carry the Kh-47M2 have been sighted by western journalists.

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