Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a Raytheon Technologies (NYSE: RTX) business, in partnership with Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC), successfully completed the second flight test of the scramjet-powered Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept, or HAWC, for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Air Force. As reveladed when the partnership was first announced in 2019, Northrop’s scramjet engine is entirely 3D printed.
This flight test applied the data and lessons learned from the first flight to mature the operationally relevant weapon concept design. The test met all primary and secondary objectives, including demonstrating tactical range capabilities.
“The test demonstrated how we’ve rapidly matured affordable scramjet technology, which is the basis for air-breathing weapons,” said Colin Whelan, president of Advanced Technology for Raytheon Missiles & Defense. “Our second HAWC flight test success is an important milestone for our nation as we advance hypersonic systems.”
During the flight test, after releasing HAWC from an aircraft and accelerating to hypersonic speeds using the scramjet engine, the vehicle flew a trajectory that engineers designed to intentionally stress the weapon concept to explore its limits and further validate digital performance models. These models, grounded in real-world flight data, are being used to accurately predict and increase performance as the system matures.
“The second flight test is a big step toward scramjet technology being mission ready,” said Dan Olson, VP and General Manager of Weapon Systems for Northrop Grumman. “Nearly twenty years of scramjet propulsion research and development have come to fruition to significantly advance our nation’s weapon capabilities.”
Scramjet engines use high vehicle speed to forcibly compress incoming air before combustion to enable sustained flight at hypersonic speeds – Mach 5 or greater. The system was designed to use a widely available hydrocarbon fuel, and since it uses air for combustion, it does not have to carry the added weight of an onboard oxidizer. These key attributes allow for a safe, efficient, and tactically sized, long-range hypersonic weapon. By traveling at these speeds, hypersonic weapons like HAWC can reach their targets more quickly than traditional missiles, allowing them to potentially evade defense systems.
Raytheon Missiles and Defense and Northrop Grumman have been working together since 2019 to develop, produce and integrate Northrop Grumman’s scramjet engines onto Raytheon’s air-breathing hypersonic weapons. Their combined efforts enable both companies to produce air-breathing hypersonic weapons, the next generation of tactical missile systems. The weapon is one of the competitors in the a $200 million U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s HAWC project, short for Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept.
“We have a flight test planned for the near future where we will begin flying this particular class of weapon system,” Tom Bussing, Vice President of Raytheon’s Advanced Missile System Segment, said during a briefing at Paris Air Show in 2019, when the project was first announced. While the exact schedule is classified, Bussing noted that the companies have already conducted “significant” ground tests
“The combustor, everything that we do now is done by additive manufacturing, so its driving affordability into the hypersonic boost missile’s scramjet engine. We are also looking at ways to reduce the weight so we can have more fuel, more payload,” he said.
The entirety of Northrop’s scramjet is 3D printed using advanced materials, said John Wilcox, the company’s Vice President of Advanced Programs and Technology.
“There gets to be points where you have to weld additively manufactured parts, but right now even the full combustor [is printed],” he said. “We think we’re the first to ever 3D print a full combuster for an air-breathing scramjet engine. That’s what’s going to drive the affordability for air-breathing scramjet missiles.”