Chuck Yeager broke the speed of sound in 1947, and the Air Force has never looked back.
The Air Force partnered with NASA to develop and test the X-15, a hypersonic, rocket-powered aircraft in the late 1950s and most of the 1960s.
A great deal of human capital and money was invested in making the leap from supersonic to hypersonic — the potential to travel at five times the speed of sound or more than 3,000 mph.
But a series of near misses and research “gotchas” stalled much of the advancement in hypersonic capabilities, according to Dr. Russ Cummings, Air Force Academy professor of aeronautics, and newly-appointed director of the Department of Defense High Performance Computing Modernization Program’s Hypersonic Vehicle Simulation Institute.
Now DOD leaders are seeking to combat the weaponization of hypersonic capabilities by peer adversaries.
At a Washington lecture series on hypersonics in December 2018, Michael Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said, “In the last year, China has tested more hypersonic weapons than we have in a decade. We’ve got to fix that.”
Undersecretary of defense for research and engineering Michael Griffin.
Griffin has pinpointed hypersonic capabilities as his “highest technical priority” since taking office with the goal of creating a decisive American advantage.
The HVSI stood up in 2018. The DOD program will issue million in grants over the next three to five years to universities for research to fill computational modeling gaps in the field of hypersonic simulation.
“Outdated modeling leads to conservative engineering approaches,” Cummings said. “For example, having inaccurate estimates for designing to mitigate the high heating on hypersonic vehicles impacts the weight and volume of the design, which can take away from the size of the payload.”
The grants will be used to fund applied science research in ten categories to help engineer accurate computer codes for hypersonic vehicles while jump-starting interest and scholarship in the field.
Ten-to-15 percent of the research will take place at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the aeronautics department. Many test facilities were closed in the 1970s, but the Academy has two on-site high speed wind tunnels, including a Mach 6 Ludwieg Tube. Starting summer 2019, cadets will join industry and university partners in a variety of hypersonic-related summer research programs.
“We’re excited to see HVSI become the latest center added to (U.S. Air Force Academy’s) research portfolio,” said Col. Donald Rhymer, the Academy’s dean of research. “Dr. Cummings brings the necessary expertise and leadership to direct the institute, as well as the pulse of the hypersonics community. I’m confident his work will ultimately benefit both the cadets and the Air Force.”