DARPA completes free-flight test of air-breathing hypersonic weapon

By Briana Reilly / September 27, 2021 at 4:28 PM

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has notched a free-flight test of one variant of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept, the agency announced today.

The test, completed last week, involved a demonstrator from a Raytheon and Northrop Grumman team, featuring Raytheon’s ultra-fast missiles and Northrop-produced scramjet engines. But the release doesn’t mention Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne, which have paired up to develop their own demonstrator.

DARPA spokesman Jared Adams confirmed Lockheed’s platform wasn’t involved in the flight test.

“We are readying our next vehicles and working toward additional flight tests later in the year,” Andrew Knoedler, DARPA’s HAWC program manager, said in a statement to Inside Defense.

The effort came a year after DARPA finished captive-carry tests of both Lockheed’s and Raytheon’s HAWC variants. At the time, free-flight demonstrations were expected later last year.

During the test last week, Raytheon’s missile -- carried under the wing of an aircraft prior to its release -- was boosted to supersonic speeds ahead of the ignition of the scramjet engine, which pushed it to greater than Mach 5, or hypersonic speeds, a company press release said.

"This test proves we can deliver the first operational hypersonic scramjet, providing a significant increase in warfighting capabilities," said Colin Whelan, Raytheon’s vice president of advanced technology, in the release.

Overall, DARPA’s press release noted, the test successfully demonstrated vehicle integration and release sequence, the safe separation of the missile from the launch aircraft, booster ignition and separation, engine ignition and cruise.

"The HAWC free flight test was a successful demonstration of the capabilities that will make hypersonic cruise missiles a highly effective tool for our warfighters,” Knoedler said in the DARPA release. "This brings us one step closer to transitioning HAWC to a program of record that offers next generation capability to the U.S military."