- Jun 3, 2011
- Reaction score
The obvious answer seems "no money" but I'm wondering if there was anything more to it than that.
Darpa Kills Shape-Shifting, Supersonic Bomber
By Noah Shachtman October 02, 2008 | 1:23:00
The Pentagon's shape-shifting, sideways-flying, unmanned, supersonic bomber program is coming to an end.
The Oblique Flying Wing, or "Switchblade," project was meant to produce an experimental aircraft that could travel 2,500 miles, loiter just outside enemy territory for more than a dozen hours and then attack at twice the speed of sound. It was never going to be an easy job; aircraft that do well at subsonic flight are inefficient at Mach speeds, and vice versa. But Darpa gave Northrop Grumman more than $10 million to come up with up designs that might work. The key: Make sure the plan was a shape-changer.
Switchblade would cruise along in a more-or-less standard configuration - with a 200-foot-long wing perpendicular to its engines. But just before the craft breaks the sound barrier, its single wing would swivel around 60 degrees so that one end points forward and the other back. This oblique configuration redistributes the shock waves that pile up in front of a plane at Mach speeds and cause drag. When the Switchblade returns to subsonic speeds, the wing would rotate back to perpendicular.
But someone would actually have to build the thing first. After "more than 1,000 subsonic and supersonic test runs" on the design, Aviation Week reports, Darpa has decided not to go ahead with an actual flight demonstrator. The program "has concluded following the preliminary design effort."
It's the latest in a series of blows for the Defense Department's premiere research agency. A few months ago, the Pentagon brass took away more than $130 million from its current budget. In September, Congress wiped out funding for "Blackswift," Darpa's program to develop a hypersonic plane. Then the Senate and the House agreed to blast tens of millions of dollars from Darpa's 2009 budget, citing "poor execution."
Back in 1945, engineers theorized that a plane with oblique wings – one angled forward, the other pointing back – would meet less resistance at Mach speeds. The cockeyed design would, in effect, give the plane a longer, thinner profile as it shot through the air. Sure, that meant the plane would be, in effect, flying sideways. But the air flowing around the plane, helping keep it aloft, would be much the same.
That didn't mean the jet would be easy to fly, though. Before it went supersonic, the wide wingspan would actually produce more drag. Plus, the lobsided design meant that every time a pilot pulls the nose up, the plane would roll to one side.
What was needed was a plane that could fly normally at first – and then transform once it broke the sound barrier. Until recently, though, there weren't smart enough computers to make the switch. (Or to help the pilots guide the new-jack plane.) Not even Space Ship One designer Burt Rutan could make his version of an oblique-winged plane work. "We just didn't have the flight control systems and computer stability augmentations," Ilan Kroo, a Stanford aeronautics professor who worked on Rutan's project, told me.
The hope was that Switchblade could finally answer those decades-old questions, with the advent of advanced artificial intelligence software and fly-by-wire technology, which replaces a pilot's physical controls over an aircraft with computer code. The hope still remains unfulfilled.
CammNut said:It's all about money.
Oblique Flying Wing did not go forward because the X-plane demonstrator would have cost too much.
Blackswift has been cancelled because Congress cut the 2009 budget from $120 million to $10 million. Congress was not convinced that Blackswift was technically feasible or operational useful.
The bigger problem is that the military is near-sighted in its requirements, and doesn't want to spend money now on technology that it might not need - and will not be ready - until 10 or 20 years from now.
The USAF wants the Next Generation Bomber and daren't make a case for the Next Next Generation Bomber for fear Congress will cut the funding for NGB, believing something better is around the corner.
So when Congress asks the "warfighter" whether putting money into Blackswift makes sense, they can't come up with a compelling reason to spend the money now on something that might pay off...some time.
Sadly, the money required to build and fly either OFW or Blackswift is a fraction of what the DoD spends each and every day of the year.
Hoo-2b-2day said:SA in bogged down in two expensive but relativelly low tech wars
Hoo-2b-2day said:It will be intersting to see if China takes advantage of this situation to get a military technological advantage over the USA, NATO and the Russian Federation.
XP67_Moonbat said:I bring you an interesting summary of hypersonic flight, 2005 vintage.
airrocket said:I fear the worst is yet to come and we won't see much else in the way sexy hyper projects for decades.