The US Air Force's new hypersonic missile took to the air for the first time as an AGM-183A Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) went aloft on June 12th from Edwards Air Force Base, California. Strapped under the wing of a B-52 Stratofortress bomber, the engine-less prototype was not dropped, but was equipped with sensors to record drag and vibrations on the vehicle and the aircraft.

Hypersonic weapons have the potential to revolutionize 21st century warfare the way the jet engine did the 20th. However, operating at speeds in excess of Mach 5 (3,709 mph, 5,440 km/h) poses major engineering challenges. Because of this, development is not so much one of dramatic breakthroughs as a series of careful steps, though the Air Force is set on getting an operational hypersonic weapon as fast as possible.

In the test, the ARRW was not fuelled or armed. It's having to remain docked to the bomber wing may seem anti-climatic, but the Air Force says that such an environmental data flight is required for all new weapon systems. The ARRW is one of two hypersonic weapons being developed under Air Force contracts and is expected to go operational sometime in 2022 thanks to a rapid prototyping program by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, Orlando, Florida.

"We're using the rapid prototyping authorities provided by Congress to quickly bring hypersonic weapon capabilities to the warfighter," says Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. "We set out an aggressive schedule with ARRW. Getting to this flight test on time highlights the amazing work of our acquisition workforce and our partnership with Lockheed Martin and other industry partners."

Source: US Air Force