The dream of a flight from London to Sydney in two to four hours came a step closer to reality after the latest iteration of the HiFIRE hypersonic vehicle made another successful experimental flight at the Woomera Test Range in South Australia. The HIFIRE 4 flight was designed to study the design assembly and pre-flight testing of hypersonic vehicles as well as new, complex avionics and control systems.
Despite the success of the flight, details of the secretive test have not been made public. A previous test of the unmanned Australian-American vehicle reached a velocity of Mach 7.5 (5,710 mph, 9,188 km/h) and an altitude of 278 km (173 mi), but the speed and altitude achieved in the latest test flight hasn't been revealed.
"Hypersonic flight has the potential to revolutionize air travel, making it faster and cheaper to travel around the world and into space," says University of Queensland (UQ) Chair of Hypersonic Propulsion Professor Michael Smart. "The experimental flight, designated as 'HIFiRE 4,' was part of the HIFiRE Program conducted by the [Australian] Defence Science and Technology Group and US Air Force Research Laboratory, partnering with UQ, Boeing, and BAE Systems."
The United States and Australian defense departments are particularly interested in the results of HiFIRE because hypersonic flight is considered a potential game changer. Hypersonic missiles would be able to travel at speeds previously only possible for suborbital warheads, giving them an ability to strike with almost no warning and penetrating current anti-missile defenses.
The HiFIRE glider is boosted by sounding rockets before being propelled to up to eight times the speed of sound by a scramjet engine before being set on a hypersonic glide trajectory. The project began in 2006 and previous test flights were conducted from the US Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii. Further tests are underway at Woomera to take advantage of the vast area and continuous data collection facilities.
FlightGlobal reports that BAE Systems Australia said, "We were pleased to support the DST with the successful flight trial; the most complex of all HIFiRE flights conducted to date, to further the fundamental scientific understanding of hypersonic flight… This flight trial is a significant step forward in proving this technology and enhancing our collective understanding of how it could be employed across a range of applications."
The video below shows the HIFIRE 4 test flight launch.
Source: University of Queensland