DARPA official: AEDC 'critical' to hypersonics advancement

Dr. Steven Walker, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) deputy director of the tactical technical office, visited AEDC May 14 to get an update on hypersonic test facilities here and to brief center leadership on ongoing and planned hypersonic projects.

Dr. Steven Walker, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) deputy director of the tactical technical office, visited AEDC May 14 to get an update on hypersonic test facilities here and to brief center leadership on ongoing and planned hypersonic projects.

Chris Smith, left, gives an update on upgrades to the Aerodynamic and Propulsion Test Unit to Dr. Steven Walker, who is the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's Tactical Technical Office deputy director. DARPA is slated to test in the hypersonic test facility once it's fully operational after a multi-million dollar upgrade. (Photo by Rick Goodfriend)

Chris Smith, left, gives an update on upgrades to the Aerodynamic and Propulsion Test Unit to Dr. Steven Walker, who is the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's Tactical Technical Office deputy director. DARPA is slated to test in the hypersonic test facility once it's fully operational after a multi-million dollar upgrade. (Photo by Rick Goodfriend)

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- As AEDC workers continue a 10-year, $63-million upgrade of the Aerodynamic and Propulsion Test unit, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's deputy director for the tactical technical office visited Arnold May 14 to get an update on the hypersonic test facility they are slated to test in once it's fully operational.

AEDC is critical in advancing the science of hypersonics and in the development of DARPA's Falcon Blackswift flight demonstration vehicle's power plant, he said.

"Without the APTU facility, we can't move forward," he said.  "This was really my attempt to communicate to the center leadership how important this test is and then tell them a little bit about where we're going with the program, assuming the test is successful." 

The Falcon Blackswift flight demonstration vehicle will be powered by a combination turbine engine and ramjet, an all-in-one power plant. The turbine engine accelerates the vehicle to around Mach 3 before the ramjet takes over and boosts the vehicle up to Mach 6.

"I will also be communicating to Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney on how important it is that we get the technical plan in place and start working with AEDC even more," he said.  "I'm trying to build the bridge at the beginning of the program - to get the communication path flowing." 

Dr. Walker also updated center leadership on a number of ongoing and planned hypersonic projects, with a focus on the upcoming testing in APTU.

"We briefed the commander about the tests that we will be starting soon as well as the ongoing high speed programs out there right now, those that will demonstrate high speed flight at Mach 6, Mach 8 and those programs that are coming to AEDC," he explained.

Dr. Walker is no stranger to AEDC. 

He was here in 1990 testing models in the 16-foot supersonic tunnel that eventually turned into what is now the F-22A Raptor.

"AEDC is a very capable ground testing complex," he said.  "We looked at a range of facilities during this trip - APTU, Tunnels A/B/C, T-3 jet engine test cell, and H2 and H3 arc heaters."  You can't go anywhere else to find such a wide range of facilities like those found here."