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We have looked at several past, current, and future vehicles pushing the envelope of hypersonic flight. Although few have actually flown, the desire for practical flight vehicles operating at high Mach speeds seems to be slowly increasing. Perhaps within the next generation, a vehicle like one of those summarized below will finally take to the skies.

Potential Hypersonic Vehicle Applications


Tactical
Fighter-Bomber
Military/
Commercial
Transport
Cruise Mach number 4 5
Range [NM] 2,000 6,000
Propulsion Turbojet or Ramjet Turbojet or Ramjet
Configuration

Long-Range
Cruiser
Single-Stage
to-Orbit (SSTO)
Vehicle
Cruise Mach number 10 20
Range [NM] 10,000 Orbital
Propulsion Ramjet or Scramjet Scramjet and Rocket
Configuration

Although few hypersonic vehicles have ever flown, many factors seem to be pushing for flight at ever increasing speeds. Perhaps an Air Force bomber, a NASA single-stage-to-orbit vehicle, or a hypersonic airliner will be the first aircraft to make hypersonic flight a practical reality. Whatever type of vehicle it is, a hypersonic aircraft will likely be a waverider. With its inherent aerodynamic advantages, due to compression lift and ease of propulsion integration to improve engine thrust, the waverider offers perhaps the most efficient means of travel at speeds of Mach 5 or more.

Regardless, much additional work needs to be done to build a database of actual flight-test data so that hypersonic vehicles can be designed and manufactured. In addition, this site has shown the importance of developing multi-disciplinary design approaches. Unlike traditional aircraft designs in which interaction between propulsion systems and aerodynamics is limited and the effect of friction heat on structures is negligible, these and other disciplines are exceptionally interconnected in hypersonic flight. With such a scale of complex interactions, multi-disciplinary optimization techniques will become critical in designing realistic and efficient hypersonic vehicles. We can only hope that vehicles like the experimental Hyper-X will begin the process of making hypersonic flight practical, safe, and cost-effective.





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