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Air Force turns to universities to advance hypersonic flight

SOURCE: Chiyacat/Shutterstock
Hypersonic Aircraft, World's Fastest Manned Plane Hanging in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

The US Air Force is expanding its hypersonic testing facilities, relying on university partnerships for its future research.

The latest university to receive funding for the project is the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI), who received a nearly US$9.8 million contract for research and development in materials and structures for reusable hypersonic vehicles.

Hypersonic vehicles travel at speeds faster than five times the speed of sound and experience significant thermal and aerodynamic loads, making their design and structure far more complicated than other aviation models.

“Designing vehicles that can survive extreme environmental stresses is critical but challenging, requiring unique structural configurations and advanced materials” Steven Olson, group leader for Structures in UDRI’s Aerospace Mechanics division, who will serve as principal investigator on the programme, said in a statement.

“Our role will be to focus on understanding the mechanical and thermal loads experienced by hypersonic vehicle structures, then work to identify the best materials and create preliminary designs for select airframe structures.”

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This is the latest but far from the first project the Air Force has collaborated on with the UDRI. In January, the institute was awarded a US$44 million-ceiling contract to develop, demonstrate, integrate, and transition new structures technologies for aerospace vehicles.

The contract runs for seven years and is managed by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Aerospace Vehicles Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The first instalment of the contract fund was worth US$5.7 million and was handed to the research centre in January to start work on the first three tasks under the programme looking at multi-disciplinary aerospace system technologies, software engineering and structural life extension.

“Part of what we do is look at how to extend the life of existing structures, but without sacrificing reliability or safety,” Davies said at the time of award.

“With this new contract we will have the opportunity to work with next-generation structures and vehicles, such as those that use advanced composite and multifunctional materials.”

UDRI will not be acting alone in its hypersonic research, teaming up with University of Tennessee and Purdue University whose capabilities in aerodynamic modelling and wind tunnel testing will further progress the research.