Category Facing the Heat Barrier: a History of Hypersonics


We consider the estimated LACE-ACES performance very optimistic. In several cases complete failure of the project would result from any significant performance degradation from the present estimates…. Obviously the advantages claimed for the system will not be available unless air can be condensed and purified very rapidly during flight. The figures reported indicate that about 0.8 ton of air per second would have to be processed.

In conventional, i. e., ordinary commercial equipment, this would require a distillation column having a cross section on the order of 500 square feet…. It is proposed to increase the capacity of equipment of otherwise conventional design by using centrifugal force. This may be possible, but as far as the Committee knows this has never been accomplished.

On other propulsion systems:

When reduced to a common basis and compared with the best of current technology, all assumed large advances in the state-of-the-art…. On the basis of the best of current technology, none of the schemes could deliver useful payloads into orbits.

On vehicle design:

We are gravely concerned that too much emphasis may be placed on the more glamorous aspects of the Aerospace Plane resulting in neglect of what appear to be more conventional problems. The achievement of low structural weight is equally important… as is the development of a highly successful propulsion system.

Regarding scramjets, the panel was not impressed with claims that supersonic combustion had been achieved in existing experiments:

These engine ideas are based essentially upon the feasibility of diffusion deflagration flames in supersonic flows. Research should be immediately initiated using existing facilities… to substantiate the feasibility of this type of combustion.

The panelists nevertheless gave thumbs-up to the Aerospaceplane effort as a con­tinuing program of research. Their report urged a broadening of topics, placing greater emphasis on scramjets, structures and materials, and two-stage-to-orbit con­figurations. The array of proposed engines were “all sufficiently interesting so that research on all of them should be continued and emphasized.”65

As the studies went forward in the wake of this review, new propulsion concepts continued to flourish. Lockheed was in the forefront. This firm had initiated com­pany-funded work during the spring of 1959 and had a well-considered single-stage concept two years later. An artists rendering showed nine separate rocket nozzles at its tail. The vehicle also mounted four ramjets, set in pods beneath the wings.

Convair’s Space Plane had used separated nitrogen as a propellant, heating it in the LACE precooler and allowing it to expand through a nozzle to produce thrust. Lockheed’s Aerospace Plane turned this nitrogen into an important system element, with specialized nitrogen rockets delivering 125,000 pounds of thrust. This cer­tainly did not overcome the drag produced by air collection, which would have turned the vehicle into a perpetual motion machine. However, the nitrogen rockets made a valuable contribution.66


Lockheed’s Aerospaceplane concept. The alternate hypersonic in-flight refueling system approach called for propellant transfer at Mach 6. (Art by Dennis Jenkins)


Republic’s Aerospaceplane concept showed extensive engine-airframe integration. (Republic Aviation)

For takeoff, Lockheed expected to use Turbo-LACE. This was a LACE variant that sought again to reduce the inherently hydrogen-rich operation of the basic system. Rather than cool the air until it was liquid, Turbo-Lace chilled it deeply but allowed it to remain gaseous. Being very dense, it could pass through a turbocom­pressor and reach pressures in the hundreds of psi. This saved hydrogen because less was needed to accomplish this cooling. The Turbo-LACE engines were to operate at chamber pressures of 200 to 250 psi, well below the internal pressure of standard rockets but high enough to produce 300,000 pounds of thrust by using turbocom – pressed oxygen.67

Republic Aviation continued to emphasize the scramjet. A new configuration broke with the practice of mounting these engines within pods, as if they were turbojets. Instead, this design introduced the important topic of engine-airframe integration by setting forth a concept that amounted to a single enormous scramjet fitted with wings and a tail. A conical forward fuselage served as an inlet spike. The inlets themselves formed a ring encircling much of the vehicle. Fuel tankage filled most of its capacious internal volume.

This design study took two views regarding the potential performance of its engines. One concept avoided the use of LACE or ACES, assuming again that this craft could scram all the way to orbit. Still, it needed engines for takeoff so turbo­ramjets were installed, with both Pratt & Whitney and General Electric providing candidate concepts. Republic thus was optimistic at high Mach but conservative at low speed.

The other design introduced LACE and ACES both for takeoff and for final ascent to orbit and made use of yet another approach to derichening the hydrogen. This was SuperLACE, a concept from Marquardt that placed slush hydrogen rather than standard liquid hydrogen in the main tank. The slush consisted of liquid that contained a considerable amount of solidified hydrogen. It therefore stood at the freezing point of hydrogen, 14 K, which was markedly lower than the 21 К of liquid hydrogen at the boiling point.68

SuperLACE reduced its use of hydrogen by shunting part of the flow, warmed in the LACE heat exchanger, into the tank. There it mixed with the slush, chilling again to liquid while melting some of the hydrogen ice. Careful control of this flow ensured that while the slush in the tank gradually turned to liquid and rose toward the 21 К boiling point, it did not get there until the air-collection phase of a flight was finished. As an added bonus, the slush was noticeably denser than the liquid, enabling the tank to hold more fuel.69

LACE and ACES remained in the forefront, but there also was much interest in conventional rocket engines. Within the Aerospaceplane effort, this approach took the name POBATO, Propellants On Board At Takeoff. These rocket-powered vehicles gave points of comparison for the more exotic types that used LACE and scramjets, but here too people used their imaginations. Some POBATO vehicles ascended vertically in a classic liftoff, but others rode rocket sleds along a track while angling sharply upward within a cradle.70

In Denver, the Martin Company took rocket-powered craft as its own, for this firm expected that a next-generation launch vehicle of this type could be ready far sooner than one based on advanced airbreathing engines. Its concepts used vertical liftoff, while giving an opening for the ejector rocket. Martin introduced a concept of its own called RENE, Rocket Engine Nozzle Ejector (RENE), and conducted experiments at the Arnold Engineering Development Center. These tests went for­ward during 1961, using a liquid rocket engine, with nozzle of 5-inch diameter set within a shroud of 17-inch width. Test conditions corresponded to flight at Mach 2 and 40,000 feet, with the shrouds or surrounding ducts having various lengths to achieve increasingly thorough mixing. The longest duct gave the best perfor­mance, increasing the rated 2,000-pound thrust of the rocket to as much as 3,100 pounds.71

A complementary effort at Marquardt sought to demonstrate the feasibility of LACE. The work started with tests of heat exchangers built by Garrett AiResearch that used liquid hydrogen as the working fluid. A company-made film showed dark liquid air coming down in a torrent, as seen through a porthole. Further tests used this liquefied air in a small thrust chamber. The arrangement made no attempt to derichen the hydrogen flow; even though it ran very fuel-rich, it delivered up to 275 pounds of thrust. As a final touch, Marquardt crafted a thrust chamber of 18-inch diameter and simulated LACE operation by feeding it with liquid air and gaseous hydrogen from tanks. It showed stable combustion, delivering thrust as high as 5,700 pounds.72

Within the Air Force, the SAB’s Ad Hoc Committee on Aerospaceplane contin­ued to provide guidance along with encouraging words. A review of July 1962 was less skeptical in tone than the one of 18 months earlier, citing “several attractive arguments for a continuation of this program at a significant level of funding”:

It will have the military advantages that accrue from rapid response times and considerable versatility in choice of landing area. It will have many of the advantages that have been demonstrated in the X-15 program, namely, a real pay-off in rapidly developing reliability and operational pace that comes from continuous re-use of the same hardware again and again. It may turn out in the long run to have a cost effectiveness attractiveness… the cost per pound may eventually be brought to low levels. Finally, the Aerospaceplane program will develop the capability for flights in the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds, a capability that may be of future use to the Defense Department and possibly to the airlines.73

Single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) was on the agenda, a topic that merits separate comment. The space shuttle is a stage-and-a-half system; it uses solid boosters plus a main stage, with all engines burning at liftoff. It is a measure of progress, or its lack, in astronautics that the Soviet R-7 rocket that launched the first Sputniks was also stage-and-a-half.74 The concept of SSTO has tantalized designers for decades, with these specialists being highly ingenious and ready to show a can-do spirit in the face of challenges.

This approach certainly is elegant. It also avoids the need to launch two rockets to do the work of one, and if the Earth’s gravity field resembled that of Mars, SSTO would be the obvious way to proceed. Unfortunately, the Earth’s field is consider­ably stronger. No SSTO has ever reached orbit, either under rocket power or by using scramjets or other airbreathers. The technical requirements have been too severe.

The SAB panel members attended three days of contractor briefings and reached a firm conclusion: “It was quite evident to the Committee from the presentation of nearly all the contractors that a single stage to orbit Aerospaceplane remains a highly speculative effort.” Reaffirming a recommendation from its I960 review, the group urged new emphasis on two-stage designs. It recommended attention to “develop­ment of hydrogen fueled turbo ramjet power plants capable of accelerating the first

stage to Mach 6.0 to 10.0____ Research directed toward the second stage which

will ultimately achieve orbit should be concentrated in the fields of high pressure hydrogen rockets and supersonic burning ramjets and air collection and enrichment systems. n

Convair, home of Space Plane, had offered single-stage configurations as early as I960. By 1962 its managers concluded that technical requirements placed such a vehicle out of reach for at least the next 20 years. The effort shifted toward a two-stage concept that took form as the 1964 Point Design Vehicle. With a gross takeoff weight of700,000 pounds, the baseline approach used turboramjets to reach Mach 5. It cruised at that speed while using ACES to collect liquid oxygen, then accelerated anew using ramjets and rockets. Stage separation occurred at Mach 8.6 and 176,000 feet, with the second stage reaching orbit on rocket power. The pay – load was 23,000 pounds with turboramjets in the first stage, increasing to 35,000 pounds with the more speculative SuperLACE.

The documentation of this 1964 Point Design, filling 16 volumes, was issued during 1963. An important advantage of the two-stage approach proved to lie in the opportunity to optimize the design of each stage for its task. The first stage was a Mach 8 aircraft that did not have to fly to orbit and that carried its heavy wings, structure, and ACES equipment only to staging velocity. The second-stage design showed strong emphasis on re-entry; it had a blunted shape along with only modest requirements for aerodynamic performance. Even so, this Point Design pushed the state of the art in materials. The first stage specified superalloys for the hot underside along with titanium for the upper surface. The second stage called for coated refrac­tory metals on its underside, with superalloys and titanium on its upper surfaces.76

Although more attainable than its single-stage predecessors, the Point Design still relied on untested technologies such as ACES, while anticipating use in aircraft structures of exotic metals that had been studied merely as turbine blades, if indeed they had gone beyond the status of laboratory samples. The opportunity neverthe­less existed for still greater conservatism in an airbreathing design, and the man who pursued it was Ernst Steinhoff. He had been present at the creation, having worked with Wernher von Braun on Germany’s wartime V-2, where he headed up the development of that missiles guidance. After I960 he was at the Rand Corpo­ration, where he examined Aerospaceplane concepts and became convinced that single-stage versions would never be built. He turned to two-stage configurations and came up with an outline of a new one: ROLS, the Recoverable Orbital Launch System. During 1963 he took the post of chief scientist at Holloman Air Force Base and proceeded to direct a formal set of studies.77

The name of ROLS had been seen as early as 1959, in one of the studies that had grown out of SR-89774, but this concept was new. Steinhoff considered that the staging velocity could be as low as Mach 3. At once this raised the prospect that the first stage might take shape as a modest technical extension of the XB-70, a large bomber designed for flight at that speed, which at the time was being readied for flight test. ROLS was to carry a second stage, dropping it from the belly like a bomb, with that stage flying on to orbit. An ACES installation would provide the liquid oxidizer prior to separation, but to reach from Mach 3 to orbital speed, the second stage had to be simple indeed. Steinhoff envisioned a long vehicle resembling a tor­pedo, powered by hydrogen-burning rockets but lacking wings and thermal protec­tion. It was not reusable and would not reenter, but it would be piloted. A project report stated, “Crew recovery is accomplished by means of a reentry capsule of the Gemini-Apollo class. The capsule forms the nose section of the vehicle and serves as the crew compartment for the entire vehicle.”78

ROLS appears in retrospect as a mirror image of NASA’s eventual space shuttle, which adopted a technically simple booster—a pair of large solid-propellant rock­ets—while packaging the main engines and most other costly systems within a fully – recoverable orbiter. By contrast, ROLS used a simple second stage and a highly intricate first stage, in the form of a large delta-wing airplane that mounted eight turbojet engines. Its length of 335 feet was more than twice that of a B-52. Weigh­ing 825,000 pounds at takeoff, ROLS was to deliver a payload of 30,000 pounds to orbit.79

Such two-stage concepts continued to emphasize ACES, while still offering a role for LACE. Experimental test and development of these concepts therefore remained on the agenda, with Marquardt pursuing further work on LACE. The earlier tests, during I960 and 1961, had featured an off-the-shelf thrust chamber that had seen use in previous projects. The new work involved a small LACE engine, the MAI 17, that was designed from the start as an integrated system.

LACE had a strong suit in its potential for a very high specific impulse, I. This is the ratio of thrust to propellant flow rate and has dimensions of seconds. It is a key measure of performance, is equivalent to exhaust velocity, and expresses the engine’s fuel economy. Pratt & Whitney’s RL10, for instance, burned hydrogen and oxygen to give thrust of 15,000 pounds with an I of 433 seconds.80 LACE was an airbreather, and its I could be enormously higher because it took its oxidizer from the atmosphere rather than carrying it in an onboard tank. The term “propellant flow rate” referred to tanked propellants, not to oxidizer taken from the air. For LACE this meant fuel only.

The basic LACE concept produced a very fuel-rich exhaust, but approaches such as RENE and SuperLACE promised to reduce the hydrogen flow substan­tially. Indeed, such concepts raised the prospect that a LACE system might use an optimized mixture ratio of hydrogen and oxidizer, with this ratio being selected to give the highest I. The MAI 17 achieved this performance artificially by using a large flow of liquid hydrogen to liquefy air and a much smaller flow for the thrust chamber. Hot-fire tests took place during December 1962, and a company report stated that “the system produced 83% of the idealized theoretical air flow and 81% of the idealized thrust. These deviations are compatible with the simplifications of the idealized analysis.”81

The best performance run delivered 0.783 pounds per second of liquid air, which burned a flow of 0.0196 pounds per second of hydrogen. Thrust was 73 pounds; I reached 3,717 seconds, more than eight times that of the RL10. Tests of the MAI 17 continued during 1963, with the best measured values of Is topping 4,500 seconds.82

In a separate effort, the Marquardt manager Richard Knox directed the pre­liminary design of a much larger LACE unit, the MAI 16, with a planned thrust of

10,0 pounds. On paper, it achieved substantial derichening by liquefying only one-fifth of the airflow and using this liquid air in precooling, while deeply cooling the rest of the airflow without liquefaction. A turbocompressor then was to pump this chilled air into the thrust chamber. A flow of less than four pounds per second of liquid hydrogen was to serve both as fuel and as primary coolant, with the antici­pated I exceeding 3,000 seconds.83

New work on RENE also flourished. The Air Force had a cooperative agree­ment with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where Fritz Pauli had developed a subscale rocket engine that burned kerosene with liquid oxygen for a thrust of 450 pounds. Twelve of these small units, mounted to form a ring, gave a basis for this new effort. The earlier work had placed the rocket motor squarely along the center – line of the duct. In the new design, the rocket units surrounded the duct, leaving it unobstructed and potentially capable of use as an ejector ramjet. The cluster was tested successfully at Marshall in September 1963 and then went to the Air Forces AEDC. As in the RENE tests of 1961, the new configuration gave a thrust increase of as much as 52 percent.84

While work on LACE and ejector rockets went forward, ACES stood as a par­ticularly critical action item. Operable ACES systems were essential for the practical success of LACE. Moreover, ACES had importance distinctly its own, for it could provide oxidizer to conventional hydrogen-burning rocket engines, such as those of ROLS. As noted earlier, there were two techniques for air separation: by chemi­cal methods and through use of a rotating fractional distillation apparatus. Both approaches went forward, each with its own contractor.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, the small firm of Dynatech took up the challenge of chemical separation, launching its effort in May 1961. Several chemical reac­tions appeared plausible as candidates, with barium and cobalt offering particular promise:

2BaO, / 2BaO + 02 2Co304 ^ 6CoO + 02

The double arrows indicate reversibility. The oxidation reactions were exother­mic, occurring at approximately 1,600°F for barium and 1,800°F for cobalt. The reduction reactions, which released the oxygen, were endothermic, allowing the oxides to cool as they yielded this gas.

Dynatechs separator unit consisted of a long rotating drum with its interior divided into four zones using fixed partitions. A pebble bed of oxide-coated particles lined the drum interior; containment screens held the particles in place while allow­ing the drum to rotate past the partitions with minimal leakage. The zones exposed the oxide alternately to high-pressure ram air for oxidation and to low pressure for reduction. The separation was to take place in flight, at speeds of Mach 4 to Mach 5, but an inlet could slow the internal airflow to as little as 50 feet per second, increas­ing the residence time of air within a unit. The company proposed that an array of such separators weighing just under 10 tons could handle 2,000 pounds per second of airflow while producing liquid oxygen of 65 percent purity.85

Ten tons of equipment certainly counts within a launch vehicle, even though it included the weight of the oxygen liquefaction apparatus. Still it was vastly lighter than the alternative: the rotating distillation system. The Linde Division of Union Carbide pursued this approach. Its design called for a cylindrical tank containing the distillation apparatus, measuring nine feet long by nine feet in diameter and rotating at 570 revolutions per minute. With a weight of 9,000 pounds, it was to process 100 pounds per second of liquefied air—which made it 10 times as heavy as the Dynatech system, per pound of product. The Linde concept promised liquid oxygen of 90 percent purity, substantially better than the chemical system could offer, but the cited 9,000-pound weight left out additional weight for the LACE equipment that provided this separator with its liquefied air.8S

A study at Convair, released in October 1963, gave a clear preference to the Dynatech concept. Returning to the single-stage Space Plane of prior years, Convair engineers considered a version with a weight at takeoff of 600,000 pounds, using either the chemical or the distillation ACES. The effort concluded that the Dynatech separator offered a payload to orbit of 35,800 using barium and 27,800 pounds with cobalt. The Linde separator reduced this payload to 9,500 pounds. Moreover, because it had less efficiency, it demanded an additional 31,000 pounds of hydrogen fuel, along with an increase in vehicle volume of 10,000 cubic feet.87

The turn toward feasible concepts such as ROLS, along with the new emphasis on engineering design and test, promised a bright future for Aerospaceplane studies. However, a commitment to serious research and development was another matter. Advanced test facilities were critical to such an effort, but in August 1963 the Air Force canceled plans for a large Mach 14 wind tunnel at AEDC. This decision gave a clear indication of what lay ahead.88

A year earlier Aerospaceplane had received a favorable review from the SAB Ad Hoc Committee. The program nevertheless had its critics, who existed particularly within the SAB’s Aerospace Vehicles and Propulsion panels. In October 1963 they issued a report that dealt with proposed new bombers and vertical-takeoff-and – landing craft, as well as with Aerospaceplane, but their view was unmistakable on that topic:

The difficulties the Air Force has encountered over the past three years in identifying an Aerospaceplane program have sprung from the facts that the requirement for a fully recoverable space launcher is at present only vaguely defined, that today’s state-of-the-art is inadequate to support any real hardware development, and the cost of any such undertaking will be extremely large…. [T]he so-called Aerospaceplane program has had such an erratic history, has involved so many clearly infeasible factors, and has been subject to so much ridicule that from now on this name should be dropped. It is also recommended that the Air Force increase the vigilance that no new program achieves such a difficult position.89

Aerospaceplane lost still more of its rationale in December, as Defense Secretary Robert McNamara canceled Dyna-Soar. This program was building a mini-space shuttle that was to fly to orbit atop a Titan III launch vehicle. This craft was well along in development at Boeing, but program reviews within the Pentagon had failed to find a compelling purpose. McNamara thus disposed of it.90

Prior to this action, it had been possible to view Dyna-Soar as a prelude to opera­tional vehicles of that general type, which might take shape as Aerospaceplanes. The cancellation of Dyna-Soar turned the Aerospaceplane concept into an orphan, a long-term effort with no clear relation to anything currently under way. In the wake of McNamara’s decision, Congress deleted funds for further Aerospaceplane studies, and Defense Department officials declined to press for its restoration within the FY 1964 budget, which was under consideration at that time. The Air Force carried forward with new conceptual studies of vehicles for both launch and hypersonic cruise, but these lacked the focus on advanced airbreathing propulsion that had characterized Aerospaceplane.91

There nevertheless was real merit to some of the new work, for this more realistic and conservative direction pointed out a path that led in time toward NASA’s space shuttle. The Martin Company made a particular contribution. It had designed no Aerospaceplanes; rather, using company funding, its technical staff had examined concepts called Astro rockets, with the name indicating the propulsion mode. Scram – jets and LACE won little attention at Martin, but all-rocket vehicles were another matter. A concept of 1964 had a planned liftoff weight of 1,250 tons, making it intermediate in size between the Saturn I-B and Saturn V. It was a two-stage fully – reusable configuration, with both stages having delta wings and flat undersides. These undersides fitted together at liftoff, belly to belly.


Martin’s Astrorocket. (U. S. Air Force)

The design concepts of that era were meant to offer glimpses of possible futures, but for this Astrorocket, the future was only seven years off. It clearly foreshadowed a class of two-stage fully reusable space shuttles, fitted with delta wings, that came to the forefront in NASA-sponsored studies of 1971- The designers at Martin were not clairvoyant; they drew on the background of Dyna-Soar and on studies at NASA – Ames of winged re-entry vehicles. Still, this concept demonstrated that some design exercises were returning to the mainstream.92

Further work on ACES also proceeded, amid unfortunate results at Dynatech. That company’s chemical separation processes had depended for success on having a very large area of reacting surface within the pebble-bed air separators. This appeared achievable through such means as using finely divided oxide powders or porous particles impregnated with oxide. But the research of several years showed that the oxide tended to sinter at high temperatures, markedly diminishing the reacting sur­face area. This did not make chemical separation impossible, but it sharply increased the size and weight of the equipment, which robbed this approach of its initially strong advantage over the Linde distillation system. This led to abandonment of Dynatech’s approach.93

Linde’s system was heavy and drastically less elegant than Dynatech’s alterna­tive, but it amounted largely to a new exercise in mechanical engineering and went forward to successful completion. A prototype operated in test during 1966, and

while limits to the company’s installed power capacity prevented the device from processing the rated flow of 100 pounds of air per second, it handled 77 pounds per second, yielding a product stream of oxygen that was up to 94 percent pure. Studies of lighter-weight designs also proceeded. In 1969 Linde proposed to build a distil­lation air separator, rated again at 100 pounds per second, weighing 4,360 pounds. This was only half the weight allowance of the earlier configuration.94

In the end, though, Aerospaceplane failed to identify new propulsion concepts that held promise and that could be marked for mainstream development. The program’s initial burst of enthusiasm had drawn on a view that the means were in hand, or soon would be, to leap beyond the liquid-fuel rocket as the standard launch vehicle and to pursue access to orbit using methods that were far more advanced. The advent of the turbojet, which had swiftly eclipsed the piston engine, was on everyone’s mind. Yet for all the ingenuity behind the new engine concepts, they failed to deliver. What was worse, serious technical review gave no reason to believe that they could deliver.

In time it would become clear that hypersonics faced a technical wall. Only limited gains were achievable in airbreathing propulsion, with single-stage-to-orbit remaining out of reach and no easy way at hand to break through to the really advanced performance for which people hoped.


Scramjets at NASA-Langley

The road to a Langley scramjet project had its start at North American Aviation, builder of the X-15- During 1962 manager Edwin Johnston crafted a proposal to modify one of the three flight vehicles to serve as a testbed for hypersonic engines.

This suggestion drew little initial interest, but in November a serious accident reopened the question. Though badly damaged, the aircraft, Tail Number 66671, proved to be repairable. It returned to flight in June 1964, with modifications that indeed gave it the option for engine testing.

The X-15 program thus had this flight-capable testbed in prospect during 1963, at a time when engines for test did not even exist on paper. It was not long, though, before NASA responded to its opportunity, as Hugh Dryden, the Agency’s Deputy Administrator, joined with Robert Seamans, the Associate Administrator, in approv­ing a new program that indeed sought to build a test engine. It took the name of Hypersonic Research Engine (HRE).

Three companies conducted initial studies: General Electric, Marquardt, and Garrett AiResearch. All eyes soon were on Garrett, as it proposed an axisymmet – ric configuration that was considerably shorter than the others. John Becker later wrote that it “was the smallest, simplest, easiest to cool, and had the best struc­tural approach of the three designs.” Moreover, Garrett had shown strong initiative through the leadership of its study manager, Anthony duPont.15

He was a member of the famous duPont family in the chemical industry. Casual and easygoing, he had already shown a keen eye for the technologies of the future. As early as 1954, as a student, he had applied for a patent on a wing made of

Scramjets at NASA-Langley

composite materials. He flew as a co-pilot with Pan Ameri­can, commemorating those days with a framed picture of a Stratocruiser airliner in his office. He went on to Douglas Aircraft, where he managed studies of Aerospaceplane. Then Clifford Garrett, who had a strong interest in scram – jets, recruited him to direct his company’s efforts.16

NASA’s managers soon offered an opportunity to the HRE competitors. The Ord­nance Aerophysics Laboratory was still in business, and any of them could spend a month there testing hardware—if they could build scramjet components on short notice. Drawing on $250,000 in company funds, DuPont crafted a full-scale HRE combustor in only sixty days. At OAL, it yielded more than five hours of test data. Neither GE nor Marquardt showed similar adroitness, while DuPont’s initiative suggested that the final HRE combustor would be easy to build. With this plus the advantages noted by Becker, Garrett won the contract. In July 1966 the program then moved into a phase of engine development and test.17

Number 66671 was flying routinely, and it proved possible to build a dummy HRE that could be mounted to the lower fin of that X-15. This led to a flight – test program that approached disaster in October 1967, when the test pilot Pete Knight flew to Mach 6.72. “We burned the engine off,” Knight recalls. “I was on my way back to Edwards; my concern was to get the airplane back in one piece.” He landed safely, but historian Richard Hallion writes that the airplane “resembled

burnt firewood__ It was the closest any X-15 came to structural failure induced by


Once again it went back to the shops, marked for extensive repair. Then in mid – November another X-15 was lost outright in the accident that killed its test pilot, Mike Adams. Suddenly the X-15 was down from three flight-rated airplanes to only one, and while Number 66671 returned to the flight line the following June, it never flew again. Nor would it fly again with the HRE. This dummy engine had set up the patterns of airflow that had caused the shock-impingement heating that had nearly destroyed it.19

In a trice then the HRE program was completely turned on its head. It had begun with the expectation of using the X-15 for flight test of advanced engines, at a moment when no such engines existed. Now Garrett was building them—but

Scramjets at NASA-Langley

Test pilot William “Pete” Knight initiates his record flight, which reached Mach 6.72. (NASA)

the X-15 could not be allowed to fly with them. Indeed, it soon stopped flying alto­gether. Thus, during 1968, it became clear that the HRE could survive only through a complete shift in focus to ground test.

Earlier plans had called for a hydrogen-cooled flightweight engine. Now the program’s research objectives were to be addressed using two separate wind-tunnel versions. Each was to have a diameter of 18 inches, with a configuration and flow path matching those of the earlier flight-rated concept. The test objectives then were divided between them.

A water-cooled Aerothermodynamic Integration Model (AIM) was to serve for hot-fire testing. Lacking provision for hydrogen cooling, it stood at the techni­cal level of the General Electric and Pratt & Whitney test scramjets. In addition, continuing interest in flightweight hydrogen-cooled engine structures brought a requirement for the Structures Assembly Model (SAM), which did not burn fuel. It operated at high temperature in Langley’s eight-foot diameter High Temperature Structures Tunnel, which reached Mach 7-20

SAM arrived at NASA-Langley in August 1970. Under test, its inlet lip showed robustness for it stood up to the impact of small particles, some of which blocked thin hydrogen flow passages. Other impacts produced actual holes as large as 1/16

inch in diameter. The lip nevertheless rode through the subsequent shock-impinge­ment heating without coolant starvation or damage from overheating. This repre­sented an important advance in scramjet technology, for it demonstrated the feasi­bility of crafting a flightweight fuel-cooled structure that could withstand foreign object damage along with very severe heating.21

AIM was also on the agenda. It reached its test center at Plum Brook, Ohio, in August 1971, but the facility was not ready. It took a year before the program under­took data runs, and then most of another year before the first run that was successful. Indeed, of 63 test runs conducted across 18 months, 42 returned little or no useful data. Moreover, while scramjet advocates had hoped to achieve shock-free flow, it certainly did not do this. In addition, only about half of the injected fuel actually burned. But shocks in the subsonic-combustion zone heated the downstream flow and unexpectedly enabled the rest of the fuel to burn. In Becker’s words, “without this bonanza, AIM performance would have been far below its design values.”22

The HRE was axisymmetric. A practical engine of this type would have been mounted in a pod, like a turbojet in an airliner. An airliner’s jet engines use only a small portion of the air that flows past the wings and fuselage, but scramjets have far less effectiveness. Therefore, to give enough thrust for acceleration at high Mach, they must capture and process as much as possible of the air flowing along the vehicle.

Scramjets at NASA-LangleyPodded engines like the HRE cannot do this. The axisymmetry of the HRE made it easy to study because it had a two-dimensional layout, but it was not suitable for an operational engine. The scramjet that indeed could capture and process most of the airflow is known as an airframe-integrated engine, in which much of the air­craft serves as part of the propulsion system. Its layout is three-dimen­sional and hence is more complex, but only an airframe-integrated con­cept has the additional power that can make it practical for propulsion.

Подпись: Contributions to scramjet thrust from airframe integration. (NASA) Paper studies of air­frame-integrated con­cepts began at Lang­ley in 1968, breaking completely with those of HRE. These investi­gations considered the

entire undersurface of a hypersonic aircraft as an element of the propulsion system. The forebody produced a strong oblique shock that precompressed the airflow prior to its entry into the inlet. The afterbody was curved and swept upward to form a half-nozzle. This concept gave a useful shape for the airplane while retaining the advantages of airframe-integrated scramjet operation.

Подпись: Airframe-integrated scramjet concept. (Garrett Corp.) Within the Hypersonic Pro­pulsion Branch, John Henry and Shimer Pinckney devel­oped the initial concept. Their basic installation was a module, rectangular in shape, with a number of them set side by side to encircle the lower fuse­lage and achieve the required high capture of airflow. Their inlet had a swept opening that angled backward at 48 degrees.

This provided a cutaway that readily permitted spillage of airflow, which otherwise could choke the inlet when starting.

The bow shock gave greater compression of the flow at high Mach, thereby reducing the height of the cowl and the required size of the engine. At Mach 10 this reduction was by a factor of three. While this shock compressed the flow vertically, wedge-shaped sidewalls com­pressed it horizontally. This two-plane compression diminished changes in the inlet flow field with increasing Mach, making it possible to cover a broad Mach range in fixed geometry.

Like the inlet, the combustor was to cover a large Mach range in fixed geometry. This called for thermal compression, and Langley contracted with Antonio Ferri at New York University to conduct analyses. This brought Ferri back into the world of scramjets. The design called for struts as fuel injectors, swept at 48 degrees to paral­lel the inlet and set within the combustor flow path. They promised more effective fuel injection than the wall-mounted injectors of earlier designs.

The basic elements of the Langley concept thus included fixed geometry, air­frame integration, a swept inlet, thermal compression, and use of struts for fuel injection. These elements showed strong synergism, for in addition to the aircraft undersurface contributing to the work of the inlet and nozzle, the struts also served as part of the inlet and thereby made it shorter. This happened because the flow from the inlet underwent further compression as it passed between the struts.23

Scramjets at NASA-Langley

Fuel-injecting strut. Arrows show how hydrogen is injected either parallel or perpendicular to the flow. (Garrett Corporation)

Experimental work paced the Langley effort as it went forward during the 1970s and much of the 1980s. Early observations, published in 1970, showed that struts were practical for a large supersonic combustor in flight at Mach 8. This work sup­ported the selection of strut injection as the preferred mode.24

Initial investigations involved inlets and combustors that were treated as sepa­rate components. These represented preludes to studies made with complete engine modules at two critical simulated flight speeds: Mach 4 and Mach 7. At Mach 4 the inlet was particularly sensitive to unstarts. The inlet alone had worked well, as had the strut, but now it was necessary to test them together and to look for unpleas­ant surprises. The Langley researchers therefore built a heavily instrumented engine of nickel and tested it at GASL, thereby bringing new work in hypersonics to that center as well.

Mach 7 brought a different set of problems. Unstarts now were expected to be less of a difficulty, but it was necessary to show that the fuel indeed could mix and burn within the limited length of the combustor. Mach 7 also approached the limitations of available wind tunnels. A new Langley installation, the Arc-Heated Scramjet Test Facility, reached temperatures of 3,500°F and provided the appropri­ate flows.

Scramjets at NASA-Langley

Scramjets at NASA-Langley

Integration of scramjets with an aircraft. (NASA)



























Scramjets at NASA-LangleyScramjets at NASA-Langley

Scramjets at NASA-Langley

Airflow within an airframe-integrated scramjet. (NASA)

Separate engines operated at GASL and Langley. Both used heat sink, with the run times being correspondingly short. Because both engines were designed for use in research, they were built for easy substitution of components. An inlet, combus­tor, nozzle, or set of fuel-injecting struts could be installed without having to modify the rest of the engine. This encouraged rapid prototyping without having to con­struct entirely new scramjets.

More than 70 runs at Mach 4 were made during 1978, first with no fuel injec­tion to verify earlier results from inlet tests, and then with use of hydrogen. Simple theoretical calculations showed that “thermal choking” was likely, with heat addi­tion in the combustor limiting the achievable flow rate, and indeed it appeared. Other problems arose from fuel injection. The engine used three struts, a main one on the centerline flanked by two longer ones, and fuel from these side struts showed poor combustion when injected parallel to the flow. Some unwanted inlet-combus­tor interactions sharply reduced the measured thrust. These occurred because the engine ingested boundary-layer flow from the top inner surface of the wind-tunnel duct. This simulated the ingestion of an aircraft boundary layer by a flight engine.

The thermal choking and the other interactions were absent when the engine ran very fuel-lean, and the goal of the researchers was to eliminate them while burning as much fuel as possible. They eased the problem of thermal choking by returning to a fuel-injection method that had been used on the HRE, with some fuel being injected downstream as the wall. However, the combustor-inlet interactions proved to be more recalcitrant. They showed up when the struts were injecting only about half as much fuel as could burn in the available airflow, which was not the formula for a high-thrust engine.25

Mach 7 brought its own difficulties, as the Langley group ran off 90 tests between April 1977 and February 1979- Here too there were inlet-combustor interactions, ranging from increased inlet spillage that added drag and reduced the thrust, to complete engine unstarts. When the latter occurred, the engine would put out good thrust when running lean; when the fuel flow increased, so did the measured force. In less than a second, though, the inlet would unstart and the measured thrust would fall to zero.26

No simple solution appeared capable of addressing these issues. This meant that in the wake of those tests, as had been true for more than a decade, the Langley group did not have a working scramjet. Rather, they had a research problem. They addressed it after 1980 with two new engines, the Parametric Scramjet and the Step-Strut Engine. The Parametric engine lacked a strut but was built for ease of modification. In 1986 the analysts Burton Northam and Griffin Anderson wrote;

This engine allows for easy variation of inlet contraction ratio, internal area ratio and axial fuel injection location. Sweep may be incorporated in the

inlet portion of the engine, but the remainder of the engine is unswept. In fact, the hardware is designed in sections so that inlet sweep can be changed (by substituting new inlet sidewalls) without removing the engine from the wind tunnel.

The Parametric Scramjet explored techniques for alleviating combustor-inlet interactions at Mach 4. The Step-Strut design also addressed this issue, mount­ing a single long internal strut fitted with fuel injectors, with a swept leading edge that resembled a staircase.

Подпись: Performance of scramjets. Note that figures are missing from the axes. (NASA) Northam and Anderson wrote that it “was also tested at Mach 4 and demonstrated good per­formance without combustor – inlet interaction.”27

How, specifically, did Lang­ley develop a workable scram­jet? Answers remain classified, with Northam and Anderson noting that “several of the fig­ures have no dimension on the axes and a discussion of the fig­ures omits much of the detail.”

A 1998 review was no more helpful. However, as early as 1986 the Langley researchers openly published a plot show­ing data taken at Mach 4 and at Mach 7. Curves showed values of thrust and showed that the scramjets of the mid-1980s indeed could produce net thrust. Even at Mach 7, at which the thrust was less, these engines could overcome the drag of a complete vehicle and produce acceleration. In the words of Northam and Anderson, “at both Mach 4 and Mach 7 flight condi­tions, there is ample thrust for acceleration and cruise.”28

The Х-T 5

Across almost half a century, the X-15 program stands out to this day not only for its achievements but for its audacity. At a time when the speed record stood right at Mach 2, the creators of the X-15 aimed for Mach 7—and nearly did it.[1] More­over, the accomplishments of the X-15 contrast with the history of an X-planes program that saw the X-1A and X-2 fall out of the sky due to flight instabilities, and in which the X-3 fell short in speed because it was underpowered.1

The X-15 is all the more remarkable because its only significant source of aero­dynamic data was Becker’s 11-inch hypersonic wind tunnel. Based on that instru­ment alone, the Air Force and NACA set out to challenge the potential difficulties of hypersonic piloted flight. They succeeded, with this aircraft setting speed and altitude marks that were not surpassed until the advent of the space shuttle.

It is true that these agencies worked at a time of rapid advance, when perfor­mance was leaping forward at rates never approached either before or since. Yet there was more to this craft than a can-do spirit. Its designers faced specific technical issues and overcame them well before the first metal was cut.

The X-3 had failed because it proved infeasible to fit it with the powerful tur­bojet engines that it needed. The X-15 was conceived from the start as relying on rocket power, which gave it a very ample reserve.

Flight instability was already recognized as a serious concern. Using Becker’s hypersonic tunnel, the aerodynamicist Charles McLellan showed that the effective­ness of tail surfaces could be greatly increased by designing them with wedge-shaped profiles.2

The X-15 was built particularly to study problems of heating in high-speed flight, and there was the question of whether it might overheat when re-entering the atmosphere following a climb to altitude. Calculations showed that the heating would remain within acceptable bounds if the airplane re-entered with its nose high. This would present its broad underbelly to the oncoming airflow. Here was a new application of the Allen-Eggers blunt-body principle, for an airplane with its nose up effectively became blunt.

The planes designers also benefited from a stroke of serendipity. Like any air­plane, the X-15 was to reduce its weight by using stressed-skin construction; its outer skin was to share structural loads with internal bracing. Knowing the stresses this craft would encounter, the designers produced straightforward calculations to give the requisite skin gauges. A separate set of calculations gave the skin thicknesses that were required for the craft to absorb its heat of re-entry without weakening. The two sets of skin gauges were nearly the same! This meant that the skin could do double duty, bearing stress while absorbing heat. It would not have to thicken excessively, thus adding weight, to cope with the heat.

Yet for all the ingenuity that went into this preliminary design, NACA was a very small tail on a very large dog in those days, and the dog was the Air Force. NACA alone lacked the clout to build anything, which is why one sees military insignia on photos of the X-planes of that era. Fortuitously, two new inventions—the twin – spool and the variable-stator turbojet—were bringing the Air Force face to face with a new era in flight speed. Ramjet engines also were in development, promising still higher speed. The X-15 thus stood to provide flight-test data of the highest impor­tance—and the Air Force grabbed the concept and turned it into reality.

Hypersonics and the Aviation Frontier

Aviation has grown through reliance upon engines, and three types have been important: the piston motor, turbojet, and rocket. Hypersonic technologies have made their largest contributions, not by adding the scramjet to this list, but by enhancing the value and usefulness of rockets. This happened when these technolo­gies solved the re-entry problem.

This problem addressed critical issues of the national interest, for it was essential to the success of Corona and of the return of film-carrying capsules from orbit. It also was a vital aspect of the development of strategic missiles. Still, if such weapons had proven to be technically infeasible, the superpowers would have fallen back on their long-range bombers. No such backup was available within the Corona program. During the mid-1960s the Lunar Orbiter Program used a high-resolution system for scanning photographic film, with the data being returned using telem­etry.88 But this arrangement had a rather slow data rate and was unsuitable for the demands of strategic reconnaissance.

Success in re-entry also undergirded the piloted space program. In 40 years of effort, this program has failed to find a role in the mainstream of technical activity akin to the importance of automated satellites in telecommunications. Still, piloted flight brought the unforgettable achievements of Apollo, which grow warmer in memory as the decades pass.

In a related area, the advent of thermal-protection methods led to the develop­ment of aircraft that burst all bounds on speed and altitude. These took form as the X-15 and the space shuttle. On the whole, though, this work has led to disappoint­ment. The Air Force had anticipated that airbreathing counterparts of the X-15, powered perhaps by ramjets, would come along in the relatively near future. This did not happen; the X-15 remains sui generis, a thing unto itself. In turn, the shuttle failed to compete effectively with expendable launch vehicles.

This conclusion remains valid in the wake of the highly publicized flights of SpaceShipOne, built by the independent inventor Burt Rutan. Rutan showed an uncanny talent for innovation in 1986, when his Voyager aircraft, piloted by his brother Dick and by Dicks former girlfriend Jeana Yeager, circled the world on a single load of fuel. This achievement had not even been imagined, for no science – fiction writer had envisioned such a nonstop flight around the world. What made it possible was the use of composites in construction. Indeed, Voyager was built at

Rutan’s firm of Scaled Composites.89 Such lightweight materials also found use in the construction of SpaceShipOne, which was assembled within that plant.

SpaceShipOne brought the prospect of routine commercial flights having the performance of the X-15. Built entirely as a privately funded venture, it used a simple rocket engine that burned rubber, with nitrous oxide as the oxidizer, and reached altitudes as high as 70 miles. A movable set of wings and tail booms, rotat­ing upward, provided stability in attitude during re-entry and kept the crafts nose pointing upward as well. The craft then glided to a landing.

There was no commercial follow-on to Voyager, but today there is serious inter­est in building commercial versions of SpaceShipOne that will take tourists on brief hops into space—and enable them to win astronauts’ wings in the process. Rich­ard Branson, founder of Virgin Airways, is currently sponsoring a new enterprise, Virgin Galactic, that aims to do just that. He has formed a partnership with Scaled, has sold more than 100 tickets at $200,000 each, and hopes for his first flight late in 2008.

And yet__ The top speed of SpaceShipOne was only 2,200 miles per hour, or

Mach 3-3. Rutans vehicle thus stands today as a brilliant exercise in rocketry and the design of reusable piloted spacecraft. But it is too slow to qualify as a project in hypersonics.90

Is that it, then? Following more than half a century of effort, does the re-entry problem stand as the single unambiguous contribution of hypersonics? Air Force historian Richard Hallion has written of a “hypersonic revolution,” but from this perspective, one may regard hypersonics less as an extension of aeronautics than as a branch of materials science, akin to metallurgy. Specialists in that field introduced superalloys that extended the temperature limits of jet engines, thereby enhanc­ing their range and fuel economy. Similarly, the hypersonics community developed lightweight thermal-protection systems that have found use even in exploring the planet Jupiter. Yet one does not speak of a “superalloy revolution,” and hypersonics has had similarly limited application.

There remains the issue of the continuing effort to develop the scramjet. This work has gone forward as part of an ongoing hope that better methods might be devised for ascent to orbit, corresponding perhaps to the jet airliners that drove their piston-driven counterparts to the boneyard. Access to space holds undeniable importance, and one may speak without challenge of a “satellite revolution” when we consider the vital role of such craft in a host of areas: weather forecasting, naviga­tion, tactical warfare, reconnaissance, as well as telecommunications. Yet low-cost access remains out of reach and hence continues to justify work on advanced tech­nologies, including scramjets.

Still, despite 40 years of effort, the scramjet continues to stand at two removes from importance. The first goal is simply to make it work, by demonstrating flight to orbit in a vehicle that uses such engines for propulsion. The X-30 was to fly in

this fashion, although present-day thinking leans more toward using it merely in an airbreathing first stage. But at least within the next decade the most that anyone hopes for is to accelerate a small test vehicle of the X-43 class.91

Yet even if a large launch vehicle indeed should fly using scramjets, it then will face a subsequent test, for it will have to win success in the face of competition from existing launchers. The history of aerospace shows several types of craft that indeed flew well but that failed in the market. The classic example was the dirigible, which was abandoned because it could not be made safe.92

The world still remembers the Hindenburg, but the problems ran deeper than the use of hydrogen. Even with nonflammable helium, such airships proved to be structurally weak. The U. S. Navy built three large ones—the Shenandoah, Akron, and Macon—and quickly lost them all in storms and severe weather. Nor has this problem been solved. Dirigibles might be attractive today as aerial cruise ships, offering unparalleled views of Caribbean islands, but the safety problem persists.

More recently the Concorde supersonic airliner flew with great style and panache but faltered due to its high costs. The Saturn V Moon rocket proved to be too large to justify continued production; it lacked payloads that demanded its heft. Piloted space flight raises its own questions. It too is very costly, and in the light of experi­ence with the shuttle, perhaps it too cannot be made completely safe.

Yet though scramjets face obstacles both in technology and in the market, they will continue to tantalize. Hallion writes that faith in a future for hypersonics “is akin to belief in the Second Coming: one knows and trusts that it will occur, but one can’t be certain when.” Scramjet advocates will continue to echo the defiant words of Eugen Sanger: “Nevertheless, my silver birds will fly!”93

[1]Official flight records are certified by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. The cited accomplishments lacked this distinction, but they nevertheless represented genuine achievements.

Widening Prospects. for Re-entry

Th e classic spaceship has wings, and throughout much of the 1950s both NACA and the Air Force struggled to invent such a craft. Design studies addressed issues as fundamental as whether this hypersonic rocket plane should have one particular wing-body configuration, or whether it should be upside down. The focus of the work was Dyna-Soar, a small version of the space shuttle that was to ride to orbit atop a Titan III. It brought remarkable engineering advances, but Pentagon policy makers, led by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, saw it as offering little more than technical development, with no mission that could offer a military justifica­tion. In December 1963 he canceled it.

Better prospects attended NASA’s effort in manned spaceflight, which culmi­nated in the Apollo piloted flights to the Moon. Apollo used no wings; rather, it relied on a simple cone that used the Allen-Eggers blunt-body principle. Still, its demands were stringent. It had to re-enter successfully with twice the energy of an entry from Earth orbit. Then it had to navigate a corridor, a narrow range of alti­tudes, to bleed off energy without either skipping back into space or encountering g-forces that were too severe. By doing these things, it showed that hypersonics was ready for this challenge.

The Advent of NASP

With test engines well on their way in development, there was the prospect of experimental aircraft that might exercise them in flight test. Such a vehicle might come forth as a successor to Number 66671, the X-l 5 that had been slated to fly the

HRE. An aircraft of this type indeed took shape before long, with the designation X-30. However, it did not originate purely as a technical exercise. Its background lay in presidential politics.

The 1980 election took place less than a year after the Soviets invaded Afghan­istan. President Jimmy Carter had placed strong hope in arms control and had negotiated a major treaty with his Soviet counterpart, Leonid Brezhnev. But the incursion into Afghanistan took Carter by surprise and destroyed the climate of international trust that was essential for Senate ratification of this treaty. Reagan thus came to the White House with arms-control prospects on hold and with the Cold War once more in a deep freeze. He responded by launching an arms buildup that particularly included new missiles for Europe.29

Peace activist Randall Forsberg replied by taking the lead in calling for a nuclear freeze, urging the superpowers to halt the “testing, production and deployment of nuclear weapons” as an important step toward “lessening the risk of nuclear war.” His arguments touched a nerve within the general public, for within two years, support for a freeze topped 70 percent. Congressman Edward Markey introduced a nuclear-freeze resolution in the House of Representatives. It failed by a margin of only one vote, with Democratic gains in the 1982 mid-term elections making pas­sage a near certainty. By the end of that year half the states in the Union adopted their own freeze resolutions, as did more than 800 cities, counties, and towns.30

To Reagan, a freeze was anathema. He declared that it “would be largely unverifi – able…. It would reward the Soviets for their massive military buildup while prevent­ing us from modernizing our aging and increasingly vulnerable forces.” He asserted that Moscow held a “present margin of superiority” and that a freeze would leave America “prohibited from catching up.”31

With the freeze ascendant, Admiral James Watkins, the Chief of Naval Opera­tions, took a central role in seeking an approach that might counter its political appeal. Exchanges with Robert McFarlane and John Poindexter, deputies within the National Security Council, drew his thoughts toward missile defense. Then in Janu­ary 1983 he learned that the Joint Chiefs were to meet with Reagan on 11 February. As preparation, he met with a group of advisors that included the physicist Edward Teller.

Trembling with passion, Teller declared that there was enormous promise in a new concept: the x-ray laser. This was a nuclear bomb that was to produce intense beams of x-rays that might be aimed to destroy enemy missiles. Watkins agreed that the broad concept of missile defense indeed was attractive. It could introduce a new prospect: that America might counter the Soviet buildup, not with a buildup of its own but by turning to its strength in advanced technology.

Watkins succeeded in winning support from his fellow Joint Chiefs, including the chairman, General John Vessey. Vessey then gave Reagan a half-hour briefing at the 11 February meeting, as he drew extensively on the views of Watkins. Reagan showed strong interest and told the Chiefs that he wanted a written proposal. Robert McFarlane, Deputy to the National Security Advisor, already had begun to explore concepts for missile defense. During the next several weeks his associates took the lead in developing plans for a program and budget.32

On 23 March 1983 Reagan spoke to the nation in a televised address. He dealt broadly with issues of nuclear weaponry. Toward the end of the speech, he offered new thoughts:

“Let me share with you a vision of the future which offers hope. It is that we embark on a program to counter the awesome Soviet missile threat with measures that are defensive. Let us turn to the very strengths in technology that spawned our great industrial base and that have given us the quality of life we enjoy today.

What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U. S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?…

I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.”33

The ensuing Strategic Defense Initiative never deployed weapons that could shoot down a missile. Yet from the outset it proved highly effective in shooting down the nuclear freeze. That movement reached its high-water mark in May 1983, as a strengthened Democratic majority in the House indeed passed Markeys resolu­tion. But the Senate was still held by Republicans, and the freeze went no further. The SDI gave everyone something new to talk about. Reagans speech helped him to regain the initiative, and in 1984 he swept to re-election with an overwhelming majority.34

The SDI brought the prospect of a major upsurge in traffic to orbit, raising the prospect of a flood of new military payloads. SDI supporters asserted that some one hundred orbiting satellites could provide an effective strategic defense, although the Union of Concerned Scientists, a center of criticism, declared that the number would be as large as 2,400. Certainly, though, an operational missile defense was likely to place new and extensive demands on means for access to space.

Within the Air Force Systems Command, there already was interest in a next – generation single-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle that was to use the existing Space Shuttle Main Engine. Lieutenant General Lawrence Skantze, Commander of the

Air Force Systems Command’s Aero­nautical Systems Division (ASD), launched work in this area early in 1982 by directing the ASD planning staff to conduct an in-house study of post-shuttle launch vehicles. It then went forward under the leader­ship of Stanley Tremaine, the ASD’s Deputy for Development Planning, who christened these craft as Trans – atmospheric Vehicles. In December 1984 Tremaine set up aTAV Program Office, directed by Lieutenant Colo­nel Vince Rausch.35

Подпись: Transatmospheric Vehicle concepts, 1984. (U.S. Air Force) Moreover, General Skantze was advancing into high-level realms of command, where he could make his voice heard. In August 1982 he went to Air Force Headquarters, where he took the post of Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development, and Acquisition. This gave him responsi­bility for all Air Force programs in these areas. In October 1983 he pinned on his fourth star as he took an appointment as Air Force Vice Chief of Staff. In August 1984 he became Commander of the Air Force Systems Command.36

He accepted these Washington positions amid growing military disenchantment with the space shuttle. Experience was showing that it was costly and required a long time to prepare for launch. There also was increasing concern for its safety, with a 1982 Rand Corporation study flatly predicting that as many as three shuttle orbiters would be lost to accidents during the life of the program. The Air Force was unwilling to place all its eggs in such a basket. In February 1984 Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger approved a document stating that total reliance on the shuttle “represents an unacceptable national security risk.” Air Force Secretary Edward Aldridge responded by announcing that he would remove 10 payloads from the shuttle beginning in 1988 and would fly them on expendables.37

Just then the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was coming to the forefront as an important new center for studies of TAV-like vehicles. DARPA was already reviving the field of flight research with its X-29, which featured a forward – swept wing along with an innovative array of control systems and advanced materi­als. Robert Cooper, DARPA’s director, held a strong interest in such projects and saw them as a way to widen his agency’s portfolio. He found encouragement during

The Advent of NASP

1982 as a group of ramjet specialists met with Richard De Lauer, the Undersecretary of Defense Research and Engineering. They urged him to keep the field alive with enough new funds to prevent them from having to break up their groups. De Lauer responded with letters that he sent to the Navy, Air Force, and DARPA, asking them to help.38

This provided an opening for Tony duPont, who had designed the HRE. He had taken a strong interest in combined-cycle concepts and decided that the scram – lace was the one he preferred. It was to eliminate the big booster that every ramjet needed, by using an ejector, but experimental versions weren’t very powerful. DuPont thought he could do better by using the HRE as a point of departure, as he added an auxiliary inlet for LACE and a set of ejector nozzles upstream of the com­bustor. He filed for a patent on his engine in 1970 and won it two years later.39

In 1982 he still believed in it, and he learned that Anthony Tether was the DARPA man who had been attending TAV meetings. The two men met several times, with Tether finally sending him up to talk with Cooper. Cooper listened to duPont and sent him over to Robert Williams, one of DARPA’s best aerodynami- cists. Cooper declares that Williams “was the right guy; he knew the most in this area. This wasn’t his specialty, but he was an imaginative fellow.”40

Williams had come up within the Navy, working at its David Taylor research center. His specialty was helicopters; he had initiated studies of the X-wing, which was to stop its rotor in midair and fly as a fixed-wing aircraft. He also was inter­ested in high-speed flight. He had studied a missile that was to fight what the Navy

called the “outer air battle,” which might use a scramjet. This had brought him into discussions with Fred Billig, who also worked for the Navy and helped him to learn his hypersonic propulsion. He came to DARPA in 1981 and joined its Tacti­cal Technologies Office, where he became known as the man to see if anyone was interested in scramjets.41

Williams now phoned duPont and gave him a test: “I’ve got a very ambitious problem for you. If you think the airplane can do this, perhaps we can promote a program. Cooper has asked me to check you out.” The problem was to achieve single-stage-to-orbit flight with a scramjet and a suite of heat-resistant materi­als, and duPont recalls his response: “I stayed up all night; I was more and more intrigued with this. Finally I called him back: ‘Okay, Bob, it’s not impossible. Now what?”’42

DuPont had been using a desktop computer, and Williams and Tether responded to his impromptu calculations by giving him $30,000 to prepare a report. Soon Williams was broadening his circle of scramjet specialists by talking with old-timers such as Arthur Thomas, who had been conducting similar studies a quarter-century earlier, and who quickly became skeptical. DuPont had patented his propulsion concept, but Thomas saw it differently: “I recognized it as a Marquardt engine. Tony called it the duPont cycle, which threw me off, but I recognized it as our engine. He claimed he’d improved it.” In fact, “he’d made a mistake in calculating the heat capacity of air. So his engine looked so much better than ours.”

Thomas nevertheless signed on to contribute to the missionary work, joining Williams and duPont in giving presentations to other conceptual-design groups. At Lockheed and Boeing, they found themselves talking to other people who knew scramjets. As Thomas recalls, “The people were amazed at the component efficien­cies that had been assumed in the study. They got me aside and asked if I really believed it. Were these things achievable? Tony was optimistic everywhere: on mass fraction, on air drag of the vehicle, on inlet performance, on nozzle perfor­mance, on combustor performance. The whole thing, across the board. But what salved our conscience was that even if these weren’t all achieved, we still could have something worth while. Whatever we got would still be exciting.”43

Williams recalls that in April 1984, “I put together a presentation for Cooper called ‘Resurrection of the Aerospaceplane.’ He had one hour; I had 150 slides. He came in, sat down, and said Go. We blasted through those slides. Then there was silence. Cooper said, Т want to spend a day on this.’” After hearing addi­tional briefings, he approved a $5.5-million effort known as Copper Canyon, which brought an expanded program of studies and analyses.44

Copper Canyon represented an attempt to show how the SDI could achieve its access to space, and a number of high-level people responded favorably when Cooper asked to give a briefing. He and Williams made a presentation to George Keyworth, Reagan’s science advisor. They then briefed the White House Science

Council. Keyworth recalls that “here were people who normally would ask ques­tions for hours. But after only about a half-hour, David Packard said, ‘What’s keep­ing us? Let’s do it!”’ Packard was Deputy Secretary of Defense.45

During 1985, as Copper Canyon neared conclusion, the question arose of expanding the effort with support from NASA and the Air Force. Cooper attended a classified review and as he recalls, “I went into that meeting with a high degree of skepticism.” But technical presentations brought him around: “For each major problem, there were three or four plausible ways to deal with it. That’s extraordi­nary. Usually it’s—‘Well, we don’t know exactly how we’ll do it, but we’ll do it.’ Or, ‘We have a way to do it, which may work.’ It was really a surprise to me; I couldn’t pick any obvious holes in what they had done. I could find no reason why they couldn’t go forward.”46

Further briefings followed. Williams gave one to Admiral Watkins, whom Cooper describes as “very supportive, said he would commit the Navy to support of the program.” Then in July, Cooper accompanied Williams as they gave a presenta­tion to General Skantze.

They displayed their viewgraphs and in Cooper’s words, “He took one look at our concept and said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I meant. I invented that idea.’” Not even the stars on his shoulders could give him that achievement, but his endorsement reflected the fact that he was dissatisfied with the TAV studies. He had come away appreciating that he needed something better than rocket engines—and here it was. “His enthusiasm came from the fact that this was all he had anticipated,” Cooper continues. “He felt as if he owned it.”

Skantze wanted more than viewgraphs. He wanted to see duPont’s engine in operation. A small version was under test at GASL, without LACE but definitely with its ejector, and one technician had said, “This engine really does put out static thrust, which isn’t obvious for a ramjet.” Skantze saw the demonstration and came away impressed. Then, Williams adds, “the Air Force system began to move with

The Advent of NASPthe speed of a spaceplane. In literally a week and a half, the entire Air Force senior com­mand was briefed.”

Later that year the Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, granted a briefing. With him were members of his staff, along with senior people from NASA and the military service. After giving the presentation, Williams recalls that “there was Initial version of the duPont engine under test at GASL. silence ІП the ГООГП The Sec-

retary said, ‘Interesting,’ and turned to his staff. Of course, all the groundwork had been laid. All of the people there had been briefed, and we could go for a yes-or-no decision. We had essentially total unanimity around the table, and he decided that the program would proceed as a major Defense Department initiative. With this, we moved immediately to issue requests for proposal to industry.”47

In January 1986 the TAV effort was formally terminated. At Wright-Patterson AFB, the staff of its program office went over to a new Joint Program Office that now supported what was called the National Aerospace Plane. It brought together rep­resentatives from the Air Force, Navy, and NASA. Program management remained at DARPA, where Williams retained his post as the overall manager.48

In this fashion, NASP became a significant federal initiative. It benefited from a rare alignment of the political stars, for Reagan’s SDI cried out for better launch vehicles and Skantze was ready to offer them. Nor did funding appear to be a prob­lem, at least initially. Reagan had shown favor to aerospace through such acts as approving NASA’s space station in 1984. Pentagon spending had surged, and DAR – PA’s Cooper was asserting that an X-30 might be built for an affordable cost.

Yet NASP was a leap into the unknown. Its scramjets now were in the forefront but not because the Langley research had shown that they were ready. Instead they were a focus of hope because Reagan wanted SDI, SDI needed better access to space, and Skantze wanted something better than rockets.

The people who were making Air Force decisions, such as Skantze, did not know much about these engines. The people who did know them, such as Thomas, were well aware of duPont’s optimism. There thus was abundant opportunity for high hope to give way to hard experience.

Origins of the x-15

Experimental aircraft flourished during the postwar years, but it was hard for them to keep pace with the best jet fighters. The X-l, for instance, was the first piloted aircraft to break the sound barrier. But only six months later, in April 1948, the test pilot George Welch did this in a fighter plane, the XP-86.3 The layout of the XP-86 was more advanced, for it used a swept wing whereas the X-l used a simple straight wing. Moreover, while the X-l was a highly specialized research airplane, the XP-86 was a prototype of an operational fighter.

Much the same happened at Mach 2. The test pilot Scott Crossfield was the first to reach this mark, flying the experimental Douglas Skyrocket in November 1953.4 Just then, Alexander Kartveli of Republic Aviation was well along in crafting the XF-105. The Air Force had ordered 37 of them in March 1953- It first flew in December 1955; in June 1956 an F-105 reached Mach 2.15. It too was an opera­tional fighter, in contrast to the Skyrocket of two and a half years earlier.

Ramjet-powered craft were to do even better. Navaho was to fly near Mach 3- An even more far-reaching prospect was in view at that same Republic Aviation, where Kartveli was working on the XF-103. It was to fly at Mach 3-7 with its own ramjet, nearly 2,500 miles per hour (mph), with a sustained ceiling of 75,000 feet.5

Yet it was already clear that such aircraft were to go forward in their programs without benefit of research aircraft that could lay groundwork. The Bell X-2 was in development as a rocket plane designed to reach Mach 3, but although first thoughts of it dated to 1945, the program encountered serious delays. The airplane did not so much as fly past Mach 1 until 1956.6

Hence in 1951 and 1952, it already was too late to initiate a new program aimed at building an X-plane that could provide timely support for the Navaho and XF – 103- The X-10 supported Navaho from 1954 to 1957, but it used turbojets rather than ramjets and flew at Mach 2.There was no quick and easy way to build aircraft capable of Mach 3, let alone Mach 4; the lagging X-2 was the only airplane that might do this, however belatedly Yet it was already appropriate to look beyond the coming Mach 3 generation and to envision putative successors.

Maxwell Hunter, at Douglas Aircraft, argued that with fighter aircraft on their way to Mach 3, antiaircraft missiles would have to fly at Mach 5 to Mach 10/ In addition, Walter Dornberger, the wartime head of Germany’s rocket program, now was at Bell Aircraft. He was directing studies of Bomi, Bomber Missile, a two – stage fully reusable rocket-powered bomber concept that was to reach 8,450 mph, or Mach 12.8 At Convair, studies of intercontinental missiles included boost-glide concepts with much higher speeds.9 William Dorrance, a company aerodynamicist, had not been free to disclose the classified Atlas concept to NACA but nevertheless declared that data at speeds up to Mach 20 were urgently needed.10 In addition, the Rand Corporation had already published reports that envisioned spacecraft in orbit. The documents proposed that such satellites could serve for weather observation and for military reconnaissance.11

At Bell Aircraft, Robert Woods, a co-founder of the company, took a strong interest in Dornberger’s ideas. Woods had designed the X-l, the X-1A that reached Mach 2.4, and the X-2. He also was a member ofNACAs influential Committee on Aerodynamics. At a meeting of this committee in October 1951, he recommended a feasibility study of a “V-2 research airplane, the objective of which would be to obtain data at extreme altitudes and speeds and to explore the problems of re-entry into the atmosphere.”12 He reiterated this recommendation in a letter to the com­mittee in January 1952. Later that month, he received a memo from Dornberger that outlined an “ionospheric research plane,” capable of reaching altitudes of “more than 75 miles.”13

NACA Headquarters sent copies of these documents to its field centers. This brought responses during May, as several investigators suggested means to enhance the performance of the X-2. The proposals included a rocket-powered carrier air­craft with which this research airplane was to attain “Mach numbers up to almost 10 and an altitude of about 1,000,000 feet,”14 which the X-2 had certainly never been meant to attain. A slightly more practical concept called for flight to 300,000 feet.15 These thoughts were out in the wild blue, but they showed that people at least were ready to think about hypersonic flight.

Accordingly, at a meeting in June 1952, the Committee on Aerodynamics adopted a resolution largely in a form written by another of its members, the Air Force science advisor Albert Lombard:

WHEREAS, The upper stratosphere is the important new flight region for military aircraft in the next decade and certain guided missiles are already under development to fly in the lower portions of this region, and WHEREAS, Flight in the ionosphere and in satellite orbits in outer space has long-term attractiveness to military operations—

RESOLVED, That the NACA Committee on Aerodynamics recommends that (1) the NACA increase its program dealing with problems of unmanned and manned flight in the upper stratosphere at altitudes between 12 and 50 miles, and at Mach numbers between 4 and 10, and (2) the NACA devote a modest effort to problems associated with unmanned and manned flights at altitudes from 50 miles to infinity and at speeds from Mach number 10 to the velocity of escape from the Earth’s gravity.

Three weeks later, in mid-July, the NACA Executive Committee adopted essen­tially the same resolution, thus giving it the force of policy.16

Floyd Thompson, associate director of NACA-Langley, responded by setting up a three-man study team. Their report came out a year later. It showed strong fascina­tion with boost-glide flight, going so far as to propose a commercial aircraft based on a boost-glide Atlas concept that was to match the standard fares of current airliners. On the more immediate matter of a high-speed research airplane, this group took the concept of a boosted X-2 as a point of departure, suggesting that such a vehicle could reach Mach 3-7. Like the million-foot X-2 and the 300,000-foot X-2, this lay beyond its thermal limits. Still, this study pointed clearly toward an uprated X-2 as the next step.17

The Air Force weighed in with its views in October 1953. A report from the Aircraft Panel of its Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) discussed the need for a new research airplane of very high performance. The panelists stated that “the time was ripe” for such a venture and that its feasibility “should be looked into.”18 With this plus the report of the Langley group, the question of such a research plane went on the agenda of the next meeting of NACA’s Interlaboratory Research Airplane Panel. It took place at NACA Headquarters in Washington in February 1954.

It lasted two days. Most discussions centered on current programs, but the issue of a new research plane indeed came up. The participants rejected the concept of an uprated X-2, declaring that it would be too small for use in high-speed studies. They concluded instead “that provision of an entirely new research airplane is desir­able.”19

This decision led quickly to a new round of feasibility studies at each of the four NACA centers: Langley, Ames, Lewis, and the High-Speed Flight Station. The study conducted at Langley was particularly detailed and furnished much of the basis for the eventual design of the X-15- Becker directed the work, taking respon­sibility for trajectories and aerodynamic heating. Maxime Faget addressed issues of propulsion. Three other specialists covered the topics of structures and materials, piloting, configuration, stability, and control.20

A performance analysis defined a loaded weight of 30,000 pounds. Heavier weights did not increase the peak speed by much, whereas smaller concepts showed a marked falloff in this speed. Trajectory studies then showed that this vehicle could reach a range of speeds, from Mach 5 when taking off from the ground to Mach 10 if launched atop a rocket-powered first stage. If dropped from a B-52 carrier, it would attain Mach 6.3.21

Concurrently with this work, prompted by a statement written by Langleys Robert Gilruth, the Air Force’s Aircraft Panel recommended initiation of a research airplane that would reach Mach 5 to 7, along with altitudes of several hundred thou­sand feet. Beckers group selected a goal of Mach 7, noting that this would permit investigation of “extremely wide ranges of operating and heating conditions.” By contrast, a Mach 10 vehicle “would require a much greater expenditure of time and effort” and yet “would add little in the fields of stability, control, piloting problems, and structural heating.”22

A survey of temperature-resistant superalloys brought selection of Inconel X for the primary aircraft structure. This was a proprietary alloy from the firm of Inter­national Nickel, comprising 72.5 percent nickel, 15 percent chromium, 1 percent columbium, and iron as most of the balance. Its principal constituents all counted among the most critical materials used in aircraft construction, being employed in small quantities for turbine blades in jet engines. But Inconel X was unmatched in temperature resistance, holding most of its strength and stiffness at temperatures as high as 1200°F.23

Could a Mach 7 vehicle re-enter the atmosphere without exceeding this tem­perature limit? Becker’s designers initially considered that during reentry, the air­plane should point its nose in the direction of flight. This proved impossible; in Becker’s words, “the dynamic pressures quickly exceeded by large margins the limit of 1,000 pounds per square foot set by structural considerations, and the heating loads became disastrous.”

Becker tried to alleviate these problems by using lift during re-entry. According to his calculations, he obtained more lift by raising the nose—and the problem became far more manageable. He saw that the solution lay in having the plane enter the atmosphere with its nose high, presenting its flat undersurface to the air. It then would lose speed in the upper atmosphere, easing both the overheating and the aerodynamic pressure. The Allen-Eggers paper had been in print for nearly a year, and in Becker’s words, “it became obvious to us that what we were seeing here was a new manifestation of H. J. Allen’s ‘blunt-body’ principle. As we increased the angle of attack, our configuration in effect became more ‘blunt.’” Allen and Eggers had

Origins of the x-15

X-15 skin gauges and design temperatures. Generally, the heaviest gauges were required to meet the most severe temperatures. (NASA)

developed their principle for missile nose cones, but it now proved equally useful when applied to a hypersonic airplane.24

The use of this principle now placed a structural design concept within reach. To address this topic, Norris Dow, the structural analyst, considered the use of a heat-sink structure. This was to use Inconel X skin of heavy gauge to absorb the heat and spread it through this metal so as to lower its temperature. In addition, the skin was to play a structural role. Like other all-metal aircraft, the nascent X-15 was to use stressed-skin construction. This gave the skin an optimized thickness so that it could carry part of the aerodynamic loads, thus reducing the structural weight.

Dow carried through a design exercise in which he initially ignored the issue of heating, laying out a stressed-skin concept built of Inconel X with skin gauges deter­mined only by requirements of mechanical strength and stiffness. A second analysis then took note of the heating, calculating new gauges that would allow the skin to serve as a heat sink. It was clear that if those gauges were large, adding weight to the airplane, then it might be necessary to back off from the Mach 7 goal so as to reduce the input heat load, thereby reducing the required thicknesses.

When Dow made the calculations, he received a welcome surprise. He found that the weight and thickness of a heat-absorbing structure were nearly the same as those of a simple aerodynamic structure! This meant that a hypersonic airplane, designed largely from consideration of aerodynamic loads, could provide heat-sink thermal protection as a bonus. It could do this with little or no additional weight.25

This, more than anything, was the insight that made the X-15 possible. Design­ers such as Dow knew all too well that ordinary aircraft aluminum lost strength beyond Mach 2, due to aerodynamic heating. Yet if hypersonic flight was to mean anything, it meant choosing a goal such as Mach 7 and then reaching this goal through the clever use of available heat-resistant materials. In Becker’s study, the Allen-Eggers blunt-body principle reduced the re-entry heating to a level that Inco­nel X could accommodate.

The putative airplane still faced difficult issues of stability and control. Early in 1954 these topics were in the forefront, for the test pilot Chuck Yeager had nearly crashed when his X-1A fell out of the sky due to a loss of control at Mach 2.44. This problem of high-speed instability reflected the natural instability, at all Mach num­bers, of a simple wing-body vehicle that lacked tail surfaces. Such surfaces worked well at moderate speeds, like the feathers of an arrow, but lost effectiveness with increasing Mach. Yeager’s near-disaster had occurred because he had pushed just beyond a speed limit set by such considerations of stability. These considerations would be far more severe at Mach 7-26

Another Langley aerodynamicist, Charles McLellan, took up this issue by closely examining the airflow around a tail surface at high Mach. He drew on recent experi­mental results from the Langley 11-inch hypersonic tunnel, involving an airfoil with a cross section in the shape of a thin diamond. Analysis had indicated that most of the control effectiveness of this airfoil was generated by its forward wedge-shaped portion. The aft portion contributed little to its overall effectiveness because the pres­sures on that part of the surface were lower. Experimental tests had confirmed this.

McLellan now proposed to respond to the problem of hypersonic stability by using tail surfaces having airfoils that would be wedge-shaped along their entire length. In effect, such a surface would consist of a forward portion extending all the way to the rear. Subsequent tests in the 11-inch tunnel confirmed that this solution worked. Using standard thin airfoils, the new research plane would have needed tail surfaces nearly as large as the wings. The wedge shape, which saw use in the opera­tional X-15, reduced their sizes to those of conventional tails.27

The groups report, dated April 1954, contemplated flight to altitudes as great as 350,000 feet, or 66 miles. (The X-15 went to 354,200 feet in 1963-)28This was well above the sensible atmosphere, well into an altitude range where flight would be bal­listic. This meant that at that early date, Becker’s study was proposing to accomplish piloted flight into space.

Winged Spacecraft and Dyna-Soar

Boost-glide rockets, with wings, entered the realm of advanced conceptual design with postwar studies at Bell Aircraft called Bomi, Bomber Missile. The director of the work, Walter Dornberger, had headed Germany’s wartime rocket development program and had been in charge of the V-2. The new effort involved feasibility studies that sought to learn what might be done with foreseeable technology, but Bomi was a little too advanced for some of Dornberger’s colleagues. Historian Roy Houchin writes that when Dornberger faced “abusive and insulting remarks” from an Air Force audience, he responded by declaring that his Bomi would be receiving more respect if he had had the chance to fly it against the United States during the war. In Houchin’s words, “The silence was deafening.”1

Winged Spacecraft and Dyna-Soar

The initial Bomi concept, dating back to 1951, took form as an in-house effort. It called for a two-stage rocket, with both stages being piloted and fitted with delta wings. The lower stage was mostly of aluminum, with titanium leading edges and nose; the upper stage was entirely of titanium and used radiative cooling. With an initial range of 3,500 miles, it was to come over the target above 100,000 feet and at speeds greater than Mach 4. Operational concepts called for bases in England or Spain, targets in the western Soviet Union, and a landing site in northern Africa.2

During the spring of 1952, Bell officials sought funds for further study from Wright Air Development Center (WADC). A year passed, and WADC responded with a firm no. The range was too short. Thermal protection and onboard cooling raised unanswered questions. Values assumed for L/D appeared highly optimistic, and no information was available on stability, control, or aerodynamic flutter at the proposed speeds. Bell responded by offering to consider higher speeds and greater range. Basic feasibility then lay even farther in the future, but the Air Forces inter­est in the Atlas ICBM meant that it wanted missiles of longer range, even though shorter-range designs could be available sooner. An intercontinental Bomi at least could be evaluated as a potential alternative to Atlas, and it might find additional roles such as strategic reconnaissance.3

In April 1954, with that ICBM very much in the ascendancy, WADC awarded Bell its desired study contract. Bomi now had an Air Force designation, MX-2276. Bell examined versions of its two-stage concept with 4,000- and 6,000-mile ranges while introducing a new three-stage configuration with the stages mounted belly – to-back. Liftoff thrust was to be 1.2 million pounds, compared with 360,000 for the three-engine Atlas. Bomi was to use a mix of liquid oxygen and liquid fluorine, the latter being highly corrosive and hazardous, whereas Atlas needed only liquid oxygen, which was much safer. The new Bomi was to reach 22,000 feet per second, slightly less than Atlas, but promised a truly global glide range of 12,000 miles. Even so, Atlas clearly was preferable.4

But the need for reconnaissance brought new life to the Bell studies. At WADC, in parallel with initiatives that were sparking interest in unpiloted reconnaissance satellites, officials defined requirements for Special Reconnaissance System 118P. These called initially for a range of 3,500 miles at altitudes above 100,000 feet. Bell won funding in September 1955, as a follow-on to its recently completed MX – 2276 activity, and proposed a two-stage vehicle with a Mach 15 glider. In March 1956 the company won a new study contract for what now was called Brass Bell. It took shape as a fairly standard advanced concept of the mid-1950s, with a liquid – fueled expendable first stage boosting a piloted craft that showed sharply swept delta wings. The lower stage was conventional in design, burning Atlas propellants with uprated Atlas engines, but the glider retained the company’s preference for fluorine. Officials at Bell were well aware of its perils, but John Sloop at NACA-Lewis was successfully testing a fluorine rocket engine with 20,000 pounds of thrust, and this gave hope.5

The Brass Bell study contract went into force at a moment when prospects for boost-glide were taking a sharp step upward. In February 1956 General Thomas Power, head of the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC), stated that the Air Force should stop merely considering such radical concepts and begin developing them. High on his list was a weapon called Robo, Rocket Bomber, for which several firms were already conducting in-house work as a prelude to funded study contracts. Robo sought to advance beyond Brass Bell, for it was to circle the globe and hence required near-orbital speed. In June ARDC Headquarters set forth System Requirement 126 that defined the scope of the studies. Convair, Douglas, and North American won the initial awards, with Martin, Bell, and Lockheed later participating as well.

The X-15 by then was well along in design, but it clearly was inadequate for the performance requirements of Brass Bell and Robo. This raised the prospect of a new and even more advanced experimental airplane. At ARDC Headquarters, Major George Colchagoff took the initiative in pursuing studies of such a craft, which took the name HYWARDS: Hypersonic Weapons Research and Development Support­ing System. In November 1956 the ARDC issued System Requirement 131, thereby placing this new X-pIane on the agenda as well.6

The initial HYWARDS concept called for a flight speed of Mach 12. However, in December Bell Aircraft raised the speed of Brass Bell to Mach 18. This increased the boost-glide range to 6,300 miles, but it opened a large gap between the perfor­mance of the two craft, inviting questions as to the applicability of HYWARDS results. In January a group at NACA-Langley, headed by John Becker, weighed in with a report stating that Mach 18, or 18,000 feet per second, was appropriate for HYWARDS. The reason was that “at this speed boost gliders approached their peak heating environment. The rapidly increasing flight altitudes at speeds above Mach 18 caused a reduction in the heating rates.”7

With the prospect now strong that Brass Bell and HYWARDS would have the same flight speed, there was clear reason not to pursue them as separate projects but to consolidate them into a single program. A decision at Air Force Headquarters, made in March 1957, accomplished this and recognized their complementary char­acters. They still had different goals, with HYWARDS conducting flight research and Brass Bell being the operational reconnaissance system, but HYWARDS now was to stand as a true testbed.8

Robo still was a separate project, but events during 1957 brought it into the fold as well. In June an ad hoc review group, which included members from ARDC and WADC, looked at Robo concepts from contractors. Robert Graham, a NACA attendee, noted that most proposals called for “a boost-glide vehicle which would fly at Mach 20-25 at an altitude above 150,000 feet.” This was well beyond the state of the art, but the panel concluded that with several years of research, an experimental craft could enter flight test in 1965, an operational hypersonic glider in 1968, and Robo in 19747

On 10 October—less than a week after the Soviets launched their first Sputnik— ARDC endorsed this three-part plan by issuing a lengthy set of reports, “Abbre­viated Systems Development Plan, System 464L—Hypersonic Strategic Weapon System.” It looked ahead to a research vehicle capable of 18,000 feet per second and

350,0 feet, to be followed by Brass Bell with the same speed and 170,000 feet, and finally Robo, rated at 25,000 feet per second and 300,000 feet but capable of orbital flight.

The ARDC’s Lieutenant Colonel Carleton Strathy, a division chief and a strong advocate of program consolidation, took the proposed plan to Air Force Head­quarters. He won endorsement from Brigadier General Don Zimmerman, Deputy

Winged Spacecraft and Dyna-Soar

Top and side views of Dyna-Soar. (U. S. Air Force)

Director of Development Planning, and from Brigadier General Homer Boushey, Deputy Director of Research and Development. NACA’s John Crowley, Associate Director for Research, gave strong approval to the proposed test vehicle, viewing it as a logical step beyond the X-15- On 25 November, having secured support from his superiors, Boushey issued Development Directive 94, allocating $3 million to proceed with more detailed studies following a selection of contractors.10

The new concept represented another step in the sequence that included Eugen Sanger’s Silbervogel, his suborbital skipping vehicle, and among live rocket craft, the X-15- It was widely viewed as a tribute to Sanger, who was still living. It took the name Dyna-Soar, which drew on “dynamic soaring,” Sanger’s name for his skipping technique, and which also stood for “dynamic ascent and soaring flight,” or boost – glide. Boeing and Martin emerged as the finalists in June 1958, with their roles being defined in November 1959- Boeing was to take responsibility for the winged spacecraft. Martin, described as the associate contractor, was to provide the Titan missile that would serve as the launch vehicle.11

The program now demanded definition of flight modes, configuration, struc­ture, and materials. The name of Sanger was on everyone’s lips, but his skipping flight path had already proven to be uncompetitive. He and his colleague Bredt had treated its dynamics, but they had not discussed the heating. That task fell to NACA’s Allen and Eggers, along with their colleague Stanford Neice.

In 1954, following their classic analysis of ballistic re-entry, Eggers and Allen turned their attention to comparison of this mode with boost-glide and skipping entries. They assumed the use of active cooling and found that boost-glide held the advantage:

The glide vehicle developing lift-drag ratios in the neighborhood of 4 is far superior to the ballistic vehicle in ability to convert velocity into range. It has the disadvantage of having far more heat convected to it; however, it has the compensating advantage that this heat can in the main be radiated back to the atmosphere. Consequently, the mass of coolant material may be kept relatively low.

A skip vehicle offered greater range than the alternatives, in line with Sanger’s advocacy of this flight mode. But it encountered more severe heating, along with high aerodynamic loads that necessitated a structurally strong and therefore heavy vehicle. Extra weight meant extra coolant, with the authors noting that “ulti­mately the coolant is being added to cool coolant. This situation must obviously be avoided.” They concluded that “the skip vehicle is thought to be the least promising of the three types of hypervelocity vehicle considered here.”12

Following this comparative assessment of flight modes, Eggers worked with his colleague Clarence Syvertson to address the issue of optimum configuration. This issue had been addressed for the X-15; it was a mid-wing airplane that generally resembled the high-performance fighters of its era. In treating Dyna-Soar, following the Robo review of mid-1957, NACA’s Robert Graham wrote that “high-wing, mid­wing and low-wing configurations were proposed. All had a highly swept wing, and a small angle cone as the fuselage or body.” This meant that while there was agree­ment on designing the fuselage, there was no standard way to design the wing.13

Eggers and Syvertson proceeded by treating the design problem entirely as an exercise in aerodynamics. They concluded that the highest values of L/D were attain­able by using a high-wing concept with the fuselage mounted below as a slender half-cone and the wing forming a flat top. Large fins at the wing tips, canted sharply downward, directed the airflow under the wings downward and increased the lift. Working with a hypersonic wind tunnel at NACA-Ames, they measured a maximum L/D of 6.65 at Mach 5, in good agreement with a calculated value of 6.85-14

This configuration had attractive features, not the least of which was that the base of its half-cone could readily accommodate a rocket engine. Still, it was not long before other specialists began to argue that it was upside down. Instead of having a flat top with the fuselage below, it was to be flipped to place the wing below the fuselage, giving it a flat bottom. This assertion came to the forefront during Becker’s HYWARDS study, which identified its preferred velocity as 18,000 feet per second. His colleague Peter Korycinski worked with Becker to develop heating analyses of flat-top and flat-bottom candidates, with Roger Anderson and others within Langleys Structures Division providing estimates for the weight of thermal protection.

A simple pair of curves, plotted on graph paper, showed that under specified assumptions the flat-bottom weight at that velocity was 21,400 pounds and was increasing at a modest rate at higher speeds. The flat-top weight was 27,600 pounds and was rising steeply. Becker wrote that the flat-bottom craft placed its fuselage “in the relatively cool shielded region on the top or lee side of the wing—i. e., the wing was used in effect as a partial heat shield for the fuselage— This ‘flat-bot­tomed’ design had the least possible critical heating area…and this translated into least circulating coolant, least area of radiative heat shields, and least total thermal protection in flight.”15

These approaches—flat-top at Ames, flat-bottom at Langley—brought a debate between these centers that continued through 1957. At Ames, the continuing strong interest in high L/D reflected an ongoing emphasis on excellent supersonic aerody­namics for military aircraft, which needed high L/D as a matter of course. To ease the heating problem, Ames held for a time to a proposed speed of 11,000 feet per second, slower than the Langley concept but lighter in weight and more attainable in technology while still offering a considerable leap beyond the X-15. Officials at NACA diplomatically described the Ames and Langley HYWARDS concepts respectively as “high L/D” and “low heating,” but while the debate continued, there remained no standard approach to the design of wings for a hypersonic glider.16

There was a general expectation that such a craft would require active cooling. Bell Aircraft, which had been studying Bomi, Brass Bell, and lately Robo, had the most experience in the conceptual design of such arrangements. Its Brass Bell of 1957, designed to enter its glide at 18,000 feet per second and 170,000 feet in alti­tude, featured an actively cooled insulated hot structure. The primary or load-bear­ing structure was of aluminum and relied on cooling in a closed-loop arrangement that used water-glycol as the coolant. Wing leading edges had their own closed-loop cooling system that relied on a mix of sodium and potassium metals. Liquid hydro­gen, pumped initially to 1,000 pounds per square inch, flowed first through a heat exchanger and cooled the heated water-glycol, then proceeded to a second heat exchanger to cool the hot sodium-potassium. In an alternate design concept, this gas cooled the wing leading edges directly, with no intermediate liquid-metal cool­ant loop. The warmed hydrogen ran a turbine within an onboard auxiliary power unit and then was exhausted overboard. The leading edges reached a maximum temperature of 1,400°F, for which Inconel X was a suitable material.17

During August of that year Becker and Korycinski launched a new series of stud­ies that further examined the heating and thermal protection of their flat-bottom

glider. They found that for a glider of global range, flying with angle of attack of 45 degrees, an entry trajectory near the upper limit of permissible altitudes gave peak uncooled skin temperatures of 2,000°F. This appeared achievable with improved metallic or ceramic hot structures. Accordingly, no coolant at all was required!18

This conclusion, published in 1959, influenced the configura­tion of subsequent boost-glide vehi­cles—Dyna-Soar, the space shut­tle—much as the Eggers-Allen paper of 1953 had defined the blunt-body shape for ballistic entry. Prelimi­nary and unpublished results were in hand more than a year prior to publication, and when the prospect emerged of eliminating active cool­ing, the concepts that could do this were swept into prominence. They were of the flat-bottom type, with Dyna-Soar being the first to proceed into mainstream development.

Winged Spacecraft and Dyna-SoarThis uncooled configuration proved robust enough to accommo­date substantial increases in flight speed and performance. In 1959 Herbert York, the Defense Director of Research and Engineer­ing, stated that Dyna-Soar was to fly at 15,000 miles per hour. This was well above the planned speed of Brass Bell but still below orbital velocity. During subsequent years the booster changed from Martin’s Titan I to the more capable Titan II and then to the powerful Titan III-C, which could easily boost it to orbit. A new plan, approved in December 1961, dropped suborbital missions and called for “the early attainment of orbital flight.” Subsequent planning anticipated that Dyna-Soar would reach orbit with the Titan III upper stage, execute several circuits of the Earth, and then come down from orbit by using this stage as a retrorocket.19

After that, though, advancing technical capabilities ran up against increasingly stringent operational requirements. The Dyna-Soar concept had grown out of HYWARDS, being intended initially to serve as a testbed for the reconnaissance

Winged Spacecraft and Dyna-Soar

Full-scale model of Dyna-Soar, on display at an Air Force exhibition in 1962. The scalloped pat­tern on the base was intended to suggest Sanger’s skipping entry. (Boeing Company archives)

boost-glider Brass Bell and for the manned rocket-powered bomber Robo. But the rationale for both projects became increasingly questionable during the early 1960s. The hypersonic Brass Bell gave way to a new concept, the Manned Orbiting Labo­ratory (MOL), which was to fly in orbit as a small space station while astronauts took reconnaissance photos. Robo fell out of the picture completely, for the success of the Minuteman ICBM, which used solid propellant, established such missiles as the nations prime strategic force. Some people pursued new concepts that contin­ued to hold out hope for Dyna-Soar applications, with satellite interception stand­ing in the forefront. The Air Force addressed this with studies of its Saint project, but Dyna-Soar proved unsuitable for such a mission.20

Dyna-Soar was a potentially superb technology demonstrator, but Defense Sec­retary Robert McNamara took the view that it had to serve a military role in its own right or lead to a follow-on program with clear military application. The cost of Dyna-Soar was approaching a billion dollars, and in October 1963 he declared that he could not justify spending such a sum if it was a dead-end program with no ultimate purpose. He canceled it on 10 December, noting that it was not to serve as a cargo rocket, could not carry substantial payloads, and could not stay in orbit for

Winged Spacecraft and Dyna-Soar

Artist’s rendering showing Dyna-Soar in orbit. (Boeing Company archives)

long durations. He approved MOL as a new program, thereby giving the Air Force continuing reason to hope that it would place astronauts in orbit, but stated that Dyna-Soar would serve only “a very narrow objective.”21

At that moment the program called for production of 10 flight vehicles, and Boeing had completed some 42 percent of the necessary tasks. McNamara’s deci­sion therefore was controversial, particularly because the program still had high – level supporters. These included Eugene Zuckert, Air Force Secretary; Alexander Flax, Assistant Secretary for Research and Development; and Brockway McMillan, Zuckert’s Under Secretary and Flax’s predecessor as Assistant Secretary. Still, McNa­mara gave more attention to Harold Brown, the Defense Director of Research and Engineering, who made the specific proposal that McNamara accepted: to cancel Dyna-Soar and proceed instead with MOL.22

Dyna-Soar never flew. The program had expended $410 million when canceled, but the schedule still called for another $373 million, and the vehicle was still some two and a half years away from its first flight. Even so, its technology remained avail­able for further development, contributing to the widening prospects for reentry that marked the era.23

The Decline of NASP

NASP was one of Reagan’s programs, and for a time it seemed likely that it would not long survive the change in administrations after he left office in 1989- That fiscal year brought a high-water mark for the program, as its budget peaked at $320 million. During the spring of that year officials prepared budgets for FY 1991, which President George H. W Bush would send to Congress early in 1990. Military spending was already trending downward, and within the Pentagon, analyst David Chu recommended canceling all Defense Department spending for NASP. The new Secretary of Defense, Richard Cheney, accepted this proposal. With this, NASP appeared dead.

NASP had a new program manager, Robert Barthelemy, who had replaced Wil­liams. Working through channels, he found support in the White House from Vice President Dan Quayle. Quayle chaired the National Space Council, which had been created by law in 1958 and that just then was active for the first time in a decade. He

The Decline of NASP

X-30 concept of 1985. (NASA)

used it to rescue NASP. He led the Space Council to recommend proceeding with the program under a reduced but stable budget, and with a schedule slip. This plan won acceptance, giving the program leeway to face a new issue: excessive technical optimism.49

During 1984, amid the Copper Canyon activities, Tony duPont devised a con­ceptual configuration that evolved into the program’s baseline. It had a gross weight of 52,650 pounds, which included a 2,500-pound payload that it was to carry to polar orbit. Its weight of fuel was 28,450 pounds. The propellant mass fraction, the ratio of these quantities, then was 0.54.50

The fuel had low density and was bulky, demanding high weight for the tank­age and airframe. To save weight, duPont’s concept had no landing gear. It lacked reserves of fuel; it was to reach orbit by burning its last drops. Once there it could not execute a controlled deorbit, for it lacked maneuvering rockets as well as fuel and oxidizer for them. DuPont also made no provision for a reserve of weight to accommodate normal increases during development.51

Williams’s colleagues addressed these deficiencies, although they continued to accept duPont’s optimism in the areas of vehicle drag and engine performance. The new concept had a gross weight of 80,000 pounds. Its engines gave a specific impulse of 1,400 seconds, averaged over the trajectory, which corresponded to a mean exhaust velocity of 45,000 feet per second. (That of the SSME was 453-5 sec­onds in vacuum, or 14,590 feet per second.) The effective velocity increase for the X-30 was calculated at 47,000 feet per second, with orbital velocity being 25,000 feet

per second; the difference represented loss due to drag. This version of the X-30 was designated the “government baseline” and went to the contractors for further study.52

The initial round of contract awards was announced in April 1986. Five airframe firms developed new conceptual designs, introducing their own estimates of drag and engine performance along with their own choices of materials. They gave the following weight estimates for the X-30:

Подпись:Rockwell International McDonnell Douglas General Dynamics Boeing Lockheed

A subsequent downselection, in October 1987, eliminated the two heaviest con­cepts while retaining Rockwell, McDonnell Douglas, and General Dynamics for further work.53

What brought these weight increases? Much of the reason lay in a falloff in estimated engine performance, which fell as low as 1,070 seconds of averaged spe­cific impulse. New estimates of drag pushed the required effective velocity increase during ascent to as much as

52,0 feet per second.

A 1989 technical review, sponsored by the National Research Council, showed what this meant. The chair­man, Jack Kerrebrock, was an experienced propulsion spe­cialist from MIT. His panel included other men of similar background: Seymour Bog – donoff of Princeton, Artur Mager of Marquardt, Frank Marble from Caltech. Their report stated that for the X-30 to reach orbit as a single stage,

“a fuel fraction of approxi­mately 0.75 is required.”54

One gains insight by con – X-30 concept of 1990, which had grown considerably, sidering three hydrogen-fueled (U. s. Air Force)

rocket stages of NASA and calculating their values of propellant mass fraction if both their hydrogen and oxygen tanks were filled with NASP fuel. This was slush hydrogen, a slurry of the solid and liquid. The stages are the S-II and S-IVB of Apollo and the space shuttle’s external tank. Liquid hydrogen has 1/16 the density of liquid oxygen. With NASP slush having 1.16 times the density of liquid hydro­gen,55 the propellant mass fractions are as follows:56

S-IVB, third stage of the Saturn V


S-II, second stage of the Saturn V


External Tank


The S-II, which comes close to Kerrebrock’s value of 0.75, was an insulated shell that mounted five rocket engines. It withstood compressive loads along its length that resulted from the weight of the S-IVB and the Apollo moonship but did not require reinforcement to cope with major bending loads. It was constructed of alu­minum alloy and lacked landing gear, thermal protection, wings, and a flight deck.

How then did NASP offer an X-30 concept that constituted a true hypersonic airplane rather than a mere rocket stage? The answer lay in adding weight to the fuel, which boosted the pro­pellant mass fraction. The I I «!*■■■. ІНІЦИНІН £¥ IduJ ІЇ FP£

The Decline of NASPvehicle was not to reach orbit entirely on slush – fueled scramjets but was to use a rocket for final ascent.

It used tanked oxygen— with nearly 14 times the density of slush hydrogen.

In addition, design require­ments specified a tripro­pellant system that was to burn liquid methane during the early part of the flight.

This fuel had less energy than hydrogen, but it too added weight because it was relatively dense. The recom­mended mix called for 69 Evolution of the X-30. The government baseline of 1986 had percent hydrogen, 20 per – IsP ofJ1’40J° seconds’ delta’V “reach ^t?*7’?™***per

1 j second, and propellant mass fraction of 0.54. Its 1992 counter-

Cent Oxygen, and 11 percent part had less Isp, more drag, propellant mass fraction of 0.75, methane.57 and could not reach orbit. (NASP National Program Office)

In 1984, with optimism at its height, Cooper had asserted that the X-30 would be the size of an SR-71 and could be ready in three years. DuPont argued that his concept could lead to a “5-5-50” program by building a 50,000-pound vehicle in five years for $5 billion.58 Eight years later, in October 1990, the program had a new chosen configuration. It was rectangular in cross section, with flat sides. Three scramjet engines were to provide propulsion. Two small vertical stabilizers were at the rear, giving better stability than a single large one. A single rocket engine of approximately 60,000 pounds of thrust, integrated into the airframe, completed the layout. Other decisions selected the hot structure as the basic approach to thermal protection. The primary structure was to be of titanium-matrix composite, with insulated panels of carbon to radiate away the heat.59

This 1990 baseline design showed little resemblance to its 1984 ancestor. As revised in 1992, it no longer was to fly to a polar orbit but would take off on a due-east launch from Kennedy Space Center, thereby gaining some 1,340 feet per second of launch velocity. Its gross weight was quoted at 400,000 pounds, some 40 percent heavier than the General Dynamics weight that had been the heaviest acceptable in the 1987 downselect. Yet even then the 1992 concept was expected to fall short of orbit by some 3,000 feet per second. An uprated version, with a gross weight of at least 450,000 pounds, appeared necessary to reach orbital velocity. The prospective program budget came to $15 billion or more, with the time to first flight being eight to ten years.60

During 1992 both the Defense Science Board (DSB) and Congress’s General Accounting Office (GAO) conducted major program reviews. The immediate issue was whether to proceed as planned by making a commitment that would actually build and fly the X-30. Such a decision would take the program from its ongoing phase of research and study into a new phase of mainstream engineering develop­ment.

Both reviews focused on technology, but international issues were in the back­ground, for the Cold War had just ended. The Soviet Union had collapsed in 1991, with communists falling from power while that nation dissolved into 15 constituent states. Germany had already reunified; the Berlin Wall had fallen, and the whole of Eastern Europe had won independence from Moscow. The western border of Russia now approximated that of 1648, at the end of the Thirty Years’ War. Two complete tiers of nominally independent nations now stood between Russia and the West.

These developments greatly diminished the military urgency of NASP, while the reviews’ conclusions gave further reason to reduce its priority. The GAO noted that program managers had established 38 technical milestones that were to be satisfied before proceeding to mainstream development. These covered the specific topics of X-30 design, propulsion, structures and materials, and use of slush hydrogen as a fuel. According to the contractors themselves, only 17 of those milestones—fewer than half—were to be achieved by September 1993. The situation was particularly worrisome in the critical area of structures and materials, for which only six of 19 milestones were slated for completion. The GAO therefore recommended delaying a commitment to mainstream development “until critical technologies are devel­oped and demonstrated.”61

The DSB concurred, highlighting specific technical deficiencies. The most important involved the prediction of scramjet performance and of boundary-layer transition. In the latter, an initially laminar or smoothly flowing boundary layer becomes turbulent. This brings large increases in heat transfer and skin friction, a major source of drag. The locations of transition thus had to be known.

The scramjet-performance problem arose because of basic limitations in the capabilities of ground-test facilities. The best of them could accommodate a com­plete engine, with inlet, combustor, and nozzle, but could conduct tests only below Mach 8. “Even at Mach 8,” the DSB declared, “the scramjet cycle is just beginning to be established and consequently, there is uncertainty associated with extrapolat­ing the results into the higher Mach regime. At speeds above Mach 8, only small components of the scramjet can be tested.” This brought further uncertainty when predicting the performance of complete engines.

Boundary-layer transition to turbulence also demanded attention: “It is essential to understand the boundary-layer behavior at hypersonic speeds in order to ensure thermal survival of the airplane structure as designed, as well as to accurately predict the propulsion system performance and airplane drag. Excessive conservatism in boundary-layer predictions will lead to an overweight design incapable of achieving [single stage to orbit], while excessive optimism will lead to an airplane unable to survive in the hypersonic flight environment.”

The DSB also showed strong concern over issues of control in flight of the X – 30 and its engines. These were not simple matters of using ailerons or pushing throttles. The report stated that “controllability issues for NASP are so complex, so widely ranging in dynamics and frequency, and so interactive between technical disciplines as to have no parallels in aeronautical history…the most fundamental initial requirements for elementary aircraft control are not yet fully comprehended.” An onboard computer was to manage the vehicle and its engines in flight, but an understanding of the pertinent forces and moments “is still in an embryonic state.” Active cooling of the vehicle demanded a close understanding of boundary-layer transition. Active cooling of the engine called for resolution of “major uncertain­ties… connected with supersonic burning.” In approaching these issues, “very great uncertainties exist at a fundamental level.”

The DSB echoed the GAO in calling for extensive additional research before proceeding into mainstream development of the X-30:

We have concluded [that] fundamental uncertainties will continue to exist in at least four critical areas: boundary-layer transition; stability and controllability; propulsion performance; and structural and subsystem weight. Boundary-layer transition and scramjet performance cannot be validated in existing ground-test facilities, and the weight estimates have insufficient reserves for the inevitable growth attendant to material

allowables, fastening and joining, and detailed configuration issues________

Using optimistic assumptions on transition and scramjet performance, and the present weight estimates on material performance and active cooling, the vehicle design does not yet close; the velocity achieved is short of orbital requirements.62

Faced with the prospect that the flight trajectory of the X-30 would merely amount to a parabola, budget makers turned the curve of program funding into a parabola as well. The total budget had held at close to $250 million during FY 1990 and 1991, falling to $205 million in 1992. But in 1993 it took a sharp dip to $140 million. The NASP National Program Office tried to rescue the situation by proposing a six-year program with a budget of $2 billion, called Fiyflite, that was to conduct a series of unmanned flight tests. The Air Force responded with a new technical group, the Independent Review Team, that turned thumbs down on Hyflite and called instead for a “minimum” flight test program. Such an effort was to address the key problem of reducing uncertainties in scramjet performance at high Mach.

The National Program Office came back with a proposal for a new program called HySTP. Its budget request came to $400 million over five years, which would have continued the NASP effort at a level only slightly higher than its allocation of $60 million for FY 1994. Yet even this minimal program budget proved to be unavailable. In January 1995 the Air Force declined to approve the FiySTP budget and initiated the formal termination of the NASP program.63

In this fashion, NASP lived and died. Like SDI and the space station, one could view it as another in a series of exercises in Reaganesque optimism that fell short. Yet from the outset, supporters of NASP had emphasized that it was to make important contributions in such areas as propulsion, hypersonic aerodynamics, computational fluid dynamics, and materials. The program indeed did these things and thereby laid groundwork for further developments.

The Air Force and High-Speed Flight

This report did not constitute a design. However, it gave good reason to believe that such a design indeed was feasible. It also gave a foundation for briefings at which supporters of hypersonic flight research could seek to parlay the pertinent calculations into a full-blown program that would actually build and fly the new research planes. To do this, NACA needed support from the Air Force, which had a budget 300 times greater than NACA’s. For FY 1955 the Air Force budget was $16.6 billion; NACA’s was $56 million.29

Fortunately, at that very moment the Air Force was face to face with two major techni­cal innovations that were upset­ting all conventional notions of military flight. They faced the immediate prospect that aircraft would soon be flying at tempera­tures at which aluminum would no longer suffice. The inven­tions that brought this issue to the forefront were the dual-spool turbojet and the variable-stator turbojet—which call for a digres­sion into technical aspects of jet propulsion.

Подпись: UMN-SfOOL H.RBOIET Подпись: CONVENTIONS UJKROJIT Подпись: Twin-spool turbojet, amounting to two engines in one. It avoided compressor stall because its low-pressure compressor rotated somewhat slowly during acceleration, and hence pulled in less air. (Art by Don Dixon and Chris Butler)Jet engines have functioned at speeds as high as Mach 3.3. However, such an engine must accelerate to reach that speed and must remain operable to provide control when decelerating from that speed. Engine designers face the problem of “compressor stall,” which arises because com­pressors have numerous stages or rows of blades and the forward stages take in more air than the rear stages can accommodate. Gerhard Neumann of General Electric, who solved this problem, states that when a compressor stalls, the airflow pushes forward “with a big bang and the pilot loses all his thrust. Its violent; we often had blades break off during a stall.”

An interim solution came from Pratt & Whitney, as the “twin-spool” engine. It separated the front and rear compressor stages into two groups, each of which could be made to spin at a proper speed. To do this, each group had its own tur­bine to provide power. A twin-spool turbojet thus amounted to putting one such engine inside another one. It worked; it prevented compressor stall, and it also gave high internal pressure that promoted good fuel economy. It thus was selected for long-range aircraft, including jet bombers and early commercial jet airliners. It also powered a number of fighters.

The Air Force and High-Speed Flight

Gerhard Neumann’s engine for supersonic flight. Top, high performance appeared unattainable because when accelerating, the forward compressor stages pulled in more airflow than the rear ones could swallow. Center, Neumann approached this problem by working with the stators, stationary vanes fitted between successive rows of rotating compressor blades. Bottom, he arranged for stators on the front stages to turn, varying their angles to the flow. When set crosswise to the flow, as on the right, these variable stators reduced the amount of airflow that their compressor stages would pull in. This solved the problem of compressor stall, permitting flight at Mach 2 and higher. (Art by Don Dixon and Chris Butler)

The Air Force and High-Speed Flight

The F-104, which used variable stators. (U. S. Air Force)

But the twin-spool was relatively heavy, and there was much interest in avoiding compressor stall with a lighter solution. It came from Neumann in the form of the “variable-stator” engine. Within an engines compressor, one finds rows of whirling blades. One also finds “stators,” stationary vanes that receive airflow from those blades and direct the air onto the next set of blades. Neumanns insight was that the stators could themselves be adjusted, varied in orientation. At moderate speeds, when a compressor was prone to stall, the stators could be set crosswise to the flow, blocking it in part. At higher speeds, close to an engines peak velocity, the stators could turn to present themselves edge-on to the flow. Very little of the airstream would be blocked, but the engine could still work as designed.30

The twin-spool approach had demanded nothing less than a complete redesign of the entire turbojet. The variable-stator approach was much neater because it merely called for modification of the forward stages of the compressor. It first flew as part of the Lockheed F-104, which was in development during 1953 and which then flew in March 1954. Early versions used engines that did not have variable stators, but the F-104Ahad them by 1958. In May of that year this aircraft reached 1,404 mph, setting a new world speed record, and set a similar altitude mark at 91,249 feet.31

To place this in perspective, one must note the highly nonuniform manner in which the Air Force increased the speed of its best fighters after the war. The advent of jet propulsion itself brought a dramatic improvement. The author Tom "Wolfe notes that “a British jet, the Gloster Meteor, jumped the official world speed record from 469 to 606 in a single day.”32 That was an increase of nearly thirty percent, but after that, things calmed down. The Korean War-era F-86 could break the sound barrier in a dive, but although it was the best fighter in service during that war, it definitely counted as subsonic. When the next-generation F-100A flew supersonic in level flight in May 1953, the event was worthy of note.33

By then, though, both the F-104 and F-105 were on order and in development. A twin-spool engine was already powering the F-100A, while the F-104 was to fly with variable stators. At a stroke, then, the Air Force found itself in another great leap upward, with speeds that were not to increase by a mere thirty percent but were to double.

There was more. There had been much to learn about aerodynamics in crafting earlier jets; the swept wing was an important example of the requisite innovations. But the new aircraft had continued to use aluminum structures. Still, the F-104 and F-105 were among the last aircraft that were to be designed using this metal alone. At higher speeds, it would be necessary to use other materials as well.

Other materials were already part of mainstream aviation, even in 1954. The Bell X-2 had probably been the first airplane to be built with heat-resistant metals, mounting wings of stainless steel on a fuselage of the nickel alloy К Monel. This gave it a capability of Mach 3.5. Navaho and the XF-103 were both to be built of steel and titanium, while the X-7, a ramjet testbed, was also of steel.34 But all these craft were to fly near Mach 3, whereas the X-15 was to reach Mach 7. This meant that in an era of accelerating change, the X-15 was plausibly a full generation ahead of the most advanced designs that were under development.

The Air Force already had shown its commitment to support flight at high speed by building the Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC). Its back­ground dated to the closing days of World War II, when leaders in what was then the Army Air Forces became aware that Germany had been well ahead of the United States in the fields of aerodynamics and jet propulsion. In March 1946, Brigadier General H. I. Hodes authorized planning an engineering center that would be the Air Forces own.

This facility was to use plenty of electrical power to run its wind tunnels, and a committee selected three possible locations. One was Grand Coulee near Spokane, Washington, but was ruled out as being too vulnerable to air attack. The second was Arizona’s Colorado River, near Hoover Dam. The third was the hills north of Alabama, where the Tennessee Valley Authority had its own hydro dams. Senator Kenneth McKellar, the president pro tempore of the Senate and chairman of its

Armed Services Committee, won the new AEDC for his home state of Tennessee by offering to give the Air Force an existing military base, the 40,000-acre Camp Forrest. It was located near Tullahoma, far from cities and universities, but the Air Force was accustomed to operating in remote areas. It accepted this offer in April 1948, with the firm of ARO, Inc. providing maintenance and operation.35

There was no interest in reproducing the research facilities of NACA, for the AEDC was to conduct its own activities. Engine testing was to be a specialty, and the first facility at this center was an engine test installation that had been “liber­ated” from the German firm of BMW But the Air Force soon was installing its own equipment, achieving its first supersonic flow within its Transonic Model Tunnel early in 1953. Then, during 1954, events showed that AEDC was ready to conduct engi­neering development on a scale well beyond anything that NACA could envision.36

That year saw the advent of the 16-Foot Propulsion Wind Tunnel, with a test section 16 feet square. NACA had larger tunnels, but this one approached Mach 3-5 and reached Mach 4.75 under special operating conditions. A Mach of 4.75 had conventionally been associated with the limited run times of blowdown tun­nels, but this tunnel, known as 16S, was a continuous-flow facility. It was unparal­leled for exercising full-scale engines for realistic durations over the entire supersonic range.37

In December 1956 it tested the complete propulsion package of the XF-103, which had a turbojet with an afterburner that functioned as a ramjet. This engine had a total length of 39 feet. But the test section within 16S had a length of 40 feet, which gave room to spare.38 In addition, the similar Engine Test Facility accommo­dated the full-scale SRJ47 engine of Navaho, with a 51-inch diameter that made it the largest ramjet engine ever built.39

The AEDC also jumped into hypersonics with both feet. It already had an Engine Test Facility, a Gas Dynamics Facility (renamed the Von Karman Gas Dynamics Facility in 1959), and a Propulsion Wind Tunnel, the 16S. During 1955 it added a ramjet center to the Engine Test Facility, which many people regarded as a fourth major laboratory.40 Hypersonic wind tunnels were also on the agenda. Two 50-inch installations were in store, to operate respectively at Mach 8 and Mach 10. Both were continuous-flow facilities that used a 92,500-horsepower compressor system. Tunnel B, the Mach 8 facility, became operational in October 1958. Tunnel C, the Mach 10 installation, prevented condensation by heating its air to 1,450°F using a combustion heater and a 12-megawatt resistance heater. It entered operation in May I960.41

The AEDC also conducted basic research in hypersonics. It had not intended to do that initially; it had expected to leave such studies to NACA, with its name reflecting its mission of engineering development. But the fact that it was off in the wilds ofTullahoma did not prevent it from attracting outstanding scientists, some of whom went on to work in hypersonics.

Facilities such as Tunnels В and C could indeed attain hypersonic speeds, but the temperatures of the flows were just above the condensation point of liquid air. There was much interest in achieving far greater temperatures, both to add realism at speeds below Mach 10 and to obtain Mach numbers well beyond 10. Beginning in 1953, the physicist Daniel Bloxsom used the exploding-wire technique, in which a powerful electric pulse vaporizes a thin wire, to produce initial temperatures as high as 5900 K.

This brought the advent of a new high-speed flow facility: the hotshot tunnel. It resembled the shock tube, for the hot gas was to burst a diaphragm and then reach high speeds by expanding through a nozzle. But its run times were considerably longer, reaching one-twentieth of a second compared to less than a millisecond for the shock tube. The first such instrument, Hotshot 1, had a 16-inch test section and entered service early in 1956. In March 1957, the 50-inch Hotshot 2 topped “escape velocity.”42

Against this background, the X-15 drew great interest. It was to serve as a full – scale airplane at Mach 7, when the best realistic tests that AEDC could offer was full-scale engine test at Mach 4.75. Indeed, a speed of Mach 7 was close to the Mach 8 of Tunnel B. The X-15 also could anchor a program of hypersonic studies that soon would have hotshot tunnels and would deal with speeds up to orbital velocity and beyond. And while previous X-planes were seeing their records broken by jet fighters, it would be some time before any other plane flew at such speeds.

The thermal environment of the latest aircraft was driving designers to the use of titanium and steel. The X-15 was to use Inconel X, which had still better properties. This nickel alloy was to be heat-treated and welded, thereby developing valuable shop-floor experience in its use. In addition, materials problems would be pervasive in building a working X-15. The success of a flight could depend on the proper choice of lubricating oil.

The performance of the X-15 meant that it needed more than good aerodynam­ics. The X-2 was already slated to execute brief leaps out of the atmosphere. Thus, in September 1956 test pilot Iven Kincheloe took it to 126,200 feet, an altitude at which his ailerons and tail surfaces no longer functioned.43 In the likely event that future interceptors were to make similar bold leaps, they would need reaction controls—which represented the first really new development in the field of flight control since the Wright Brothers.44 But the X-15 was to use such controls and would show people how to do it.

The X-15 would also need new flight instruments, including an angle-of-attack indicator. Pilots had been flying with turn-and-bank indicators for some time, with these gyroscopic instruments enabling them to determine their attitude while flying blind. The X-15 was to fly where the skies were always clear, but still it needed to determine its angle with respect to the oncoming airflow so that the pilot could set up a proper nose-high attitude. This instrument would face the full heat load of re­entry and had to work reliably.

It thus was not too much to call the X-15 a flying version of AEDC, and high – level Air Force representatives were watching developments closely. In May 1954 Hugh Dryden, Director of NACA, wrote a letter to Lieutenant General Donald Putt, who now was the Air Forces Deputy Chief of Staff, Development. Dryden cited recent work, including that of Beckers group, noting that these studies “will lead to specific preliminary proposals for a new research airplane.” Putt responded with his own letter, stating that “the Scientific Advisory Board has done some think­ing in this area and has formally recommended that the Air Force initiate action on such a program.”45

The director of Wright Air Development Center (WADC), Colonel V. R. Haugen, found “unanimous” agreement among WADC reviews that the Langley concept was technically feasible. These specialists endorsed Langleys engineering solutions in such areas as choice of material, structure, thermal protection, and stability and control. Haugen sent his report to the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC), the parent of WADC, in mid-August. A month later Major General F. B. Wood, an ARDC deputy commander, sent a memo to Air Force Headquarters, endorsing the NACA position and noting its support at WADC. He specifically recommended that the Air Force “initiate a project to design, construct, and operate a new research aircraft similar to that suggested by NACA without delay.”46

Further support came from the Aircraft Panel of the Scientific Advisory Board. In October it responded to a request from the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Nathan Twining, with its views:

“[A] research airplane which we now feel is ready for a program is one involving manned aircraft to reach something of the order of Mach 5 and altitudes of the order of 200,000 to 500,000 feet. This is very analogous to the research aircraft program which was initiated 10 years ago as a joint venture of the Air Force, the Navy, and NACA. It is our belief that a similar co-operative arrangement would be desirable and appropriate now.”47

The meetings contemplated in the Dryden-Putt correspondence were also under way. There had been one in July, at which a Navy representative had presented results of a Douglas Aircraft study of a follow-on to the Douglas Skyrocket. It was to reach Mach 8 and 700,000 feet.48

Then in October, at a meeting of NACA’s Committee on Aerodynamics, Lock­heed’s Clarence “Kelly” Johnson challenged the entire postwar X-planes program. His XF-104 was already in flight, and he pulled no punches in his written statement:

“Our present research airplanes have developed startling performance only by the use of rocket engines and flying essentially in a vacuum. Testing airplanes designed for transonic flight speeds at Mach numbers between 2 and 3 has proven, mainly, the bravery of the test pilots and the fact that where there is no drag, the rocket engine can propel even mediocre aerodynamic forms at high Mach numbers.

I am not aware of any aerodynamic or power plant improvements to air – breathing engines that have resulted from our very expensive research airplane program. Our modern tactical airplanes have been designed almost entirely on NACA and other wind-tunnel data, plus certain rocket model tests….”49

Drawing on Lockheed experience with the X-7, an unpiloted high-speed missile, he called instead for a similar unmanned test aircraft as the way to achieve Mach 7. However, he was a minority of one. Everyone else voted to support the committees resolution:

BE IT HEREBY RESOLVED, That the Committee on Aerodynamics endorses the proposal of the immediate initiation of a project to design and construct a research airplane capable of achieving speeds of the order of Mach number 7 and altitudes of several hundred thousand feet 50

The Air Force was also on board, and the next step called for negotiation of a Memorandum of Understanding, whereby the participants—which included the Navy—were to define their respective roles. Late in October representatives from the two military services visited Hugh Dryden at NACA Headquarters, bringing a draft of this document for discussion. It stated that NACA was to provide techni­cal direction, the Air Force would administer design and construction, and the Air Force and Navy were to provide the funds. It concluded with the words, “Accom­plishment of this project is a matter of national urgency.”51

The draft became the final MOU, with little change, and the first to sign it was Trevor Gardner. He was a special assistant to the Air Force Secretary and had mid – wifed the advent of Atlas a year earlier. James Smith, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air, signed on behalf of that service, while Dryden signed as well. These signa­tures all were in place two days before Christmas of 1954. With this, the ground­work was in place for the Air Forces Air Materiel Command to issue a Request for Proposal and for interested aircraft companies to begin preparing their bids.52

As recently as February, all that anyone knew was that this new research air­craft, if it materialized, would be something other than an uprated X-2. The project had taken form with considerable dispatch, and the key was the feasibility study of Beckers group. An independent review at WADC confirmed its conclusions, whereupon Air Force leaders, both in uniform and in mufti, embraced the concept. Approval at the Pentagon then came swiftly.

In turn, this decisiveness demonstrated a willingness to take risks. It is hard today to accept that the Pentagon could endorse this program on the basis of just that one study. Moreover, the only hypersonic wind tunnel that was ready to provide sup­porting research was Becker’s 11-inch instrument; the AEDC hypersonic tunnels were still several years away from completion. But the Air Force was in no mood to hold back or to demand further studies and analyses.

This service was pursuing a plethora of initiatives in jet bombers, advanced fight­ers, and long-range missiles. Inevitably, some would falter or find themselves super­seded, which would lead to charges of waste. However, Pentagon officials knew that the most costly weapons were the ones that America might need and not have in time of war. Cost-benefit analysis had not yet raised its head; Robert McNamara was still in Detroit as a Ford Motor executive, and Washington was not yet a city where the White House would deliberate for well over a decade before ordering the B-l bomber into limited production. Amid the can-do spirit of the 1950s, the X-15 won quick approval.