Additional information is available on the DARPA Blackswift test-bed program now that DOD’s Fiscal 2009 budget request is out. As we reported in January, Blackswift is an outgrowth of DARPA’s Falcon hypersonics program under which the agency is maturing technologies applicable to future long-range strike systems and space-access capabilities that travel at many times the speed of sound. DARPA is pumping $35 million into the project in this fiscal year and would like to spend twice that amount in Fiscal 2009. Under Blackswift, engineers are creating a reusable flight vehicle about the size of an F-16 fighter that is known as the Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 3X, or HTV-3X.They will use it to conduct flight tests that will “allow for the study of tactics for a hypersonic airplane that includes a runway takeoff, Mach 6 cruise, and runway landing,” according to DARPA’s budget justification documents. HTV-3X will be powered by a combined-cycle propulsion system comprising a high-speed turbine engine for the lower echelons of speed and a supersonic combustion ramjet to achieve the hypersonic rates. Activities planned in this fiscal year include conducting propulsion trade studies and the HTV-3X conceptual design review and carrying out additional ground engine testing. In Fiscal 2009, the agency would like to mature and test the scramjet flow path on the ground, integrate the scramjet and turbine engine, and complete a ground demonstration of the combined-cycle propulsion. Plans are to transition Blackswift to the Air Force following the completion of flight-testing, for which no timeline is given.
Changes are coming this year for Airmen taking professional military education (PME) distance learning courses. Closer interactions with facilitators, a revised capstone course, and more feedback on test performance are meant to improve the overall experience for distance learning students, who often include members of the Air National Guard.