DARPA looking for Mach 6-capable aircraft that can do a barrel roll

So what would it be like to do a barrel roll at Mach 6? Seems that DARPA wants to find out. 

The agency this week opened competition for contract reportedly valued at $750 million for a hypersonic aircraft known as Blackswift that can take-off and land on a runway and of course handle that barrel roll maneuver.  

According to DARPA’s Broad Agency Announcement PDF, which is available in its 128-page glory here: “The Government seeks development of a reusable hypersonic testbed that utilizes an integrated air-breathing propulsion system. This reusable testbed will be used to conduct a vigorous flight test campaign in which key enabling technologies are demonstrated and the operational envelope is incrementally expanded in successive flights. The testbed shall take-off and land under its own power using a conventional runway.  

The ultimate flight demonstration shall consist of a powered take-off, climb and acceleration to a Mach 6+ cruise speed, sustain this Mach 6+ cruise speed in level flight for at least 60 seconds, and demonstrate maneuverability by executing an aileron roll and land under power. It is envisioned that flying this reusable hypersonic testbed in a relevant, flight environment will permit the future development of enhanced-capability reusable hypersonic cruise vehicles for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, strike or other national need missions." 

This isn’t DARPA’s first foray into the hypersonic world as you might imagine.  The agency’s Falcon program is supposed to develop and demonstrate hypersonic technologies.  According to DARPA’s Web site, this research it supposed to end up with a “reusable Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle (HCV) capable of delivering 12,000 pounds of payload at a distance of 9,000 nautical miles from the US.”  Research from this project is likely to find its way into the Blackswift project. 

There has been lots of speculation about this aircraft.  Wired and others have some interesting details on the background of these hypersonic developments.  

NASA has built scramjets in the past as well.  In 2004,  NASA's X-43A research vehicle demonstrated an air-breathing engine can fly at nearly 10 times the speed of sound. Preliminary data from the scramjet-powered research vehicle show its revolutionary engine worked successfully at nearly Mach 9.8, or 7,000 mph, as it flew at about 110,000 feet. 

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