DARPA's Hypersonic Blackswift Project Axed

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The Blackswift project, which aimed to develop a hypersonic airplane that could fly at Mach 6, has been cancelled due to a lack of funding. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Air Force had hoped to start work on an unmanned prototype later this year and fly it by 2012, but Congress was unconvinced that the program's aims were attainable, or necessary. Funding was cut from the requested $120 million to just $10 million, which DARPA says is not enough to move forward. "Obviously we are disappointed," DARPA program manager Steven Walker said, according to Aviation Week. He said lots of work already has been done to develop the hypersonic engine. "The Blackswift testbed would have been able to take off under its own power, cruise at Mach 6, maneuver at hypersonic speeds and land, and then do it again," Walker said. "Blackswift, or something very much like it, will be a required step prior to the U.S. developing an operational, reusable, air-breathing hypersonic airplane." That door may be closed for now, but DARPA already is opening other windows. The agency recently published a request seeking designs for a submersible airplane that can fly under water.

"DARPA is interested in exploring radical new technologies that can provide a game-changing DoD capability for inserting small teams, clandestinely, along coastal locations," the agency says in its solicitation. "One such technology is a submersible aircraft. A submersible aircraft would combine the key capabilities of three different platforms: 1) the speed and range of an aircraft; 2) the loiter capabilities of a boat; and 3) the stealth of a submarine." The virtual world is far ahead on this one. An outfit called Cubey Terra started to sell a submersible airplane for users of the online game Second Life several years ago. The Terra Tigershark seats two avatars, can change color on command, and vanishes from the sky after the ejection seat is deployed.