Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2 crashes on second test flight


August 11, 2011

The HTV-2 is designed to travel at speeds of Mach 20

The HTV-2 is designed to travel at speeds of Mach 20

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On Thursday, DARPA's unmanned Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2 (HTV-2) was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard an Air Force Minotaur IV rocket, which inserted the aircraft into the desired trajectory. After separation from the rocket, the vehicle transitioned to Mach 20 (approximately 13,000 mph/21,000 km/h) aerodynamic flight but a little after nine minutes of monitored flight the signal from the vehicle was lost with initial indications that the second test flight has ended in the same way as the first - with a crash into the Pacific Ocean.

A technology demonstrator and data-gathering platform, the ultimate goal of the HTV-2 aircraft is the capability to fly anywhere in the world in under 60 minutes by gliding through the Earth's atmosphere at incredibly high speeds, which cause the aircraft to experience temperatures in excess of 3,500°F (1,927°C). The aircraft's maiden flight in April 2010 followed a similar story to the latest flight with the vehicle providing data for a period of nine minutes before its signal was lost. This caused the vehicle to engage its onboard safety system, which executed a "controlled descent" into the Pacific Ocean.

"We gained valuable data from the first flight, made some adjustments based on the findings of an engineering review board to improve this second flight, and now we're ready to put all of that to the test," said Dave Neyland, director of DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, prior to the second test flight.

In the period between the two test flights, engineers adjusted the vehicle's center of gravity, decreased the angle of attack flown, and made the decision to use an onboard reaction control system to augment the vehicle flaps in an attempt to maintain stability during flight operations. Sophisticated simulations and extensive wind tunnel tests were also carried out but the team admits these ground tests "have not yielded the necessary knowledge" for the vehicle to sustain hypersonic atmospheric flight.

"Here's what we know," said Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz, DARPA HTV-2 program manager and PhD in aerospace engineering. "We know how to boost the aircraft to near space. We know how to insert the aircraft into atmospheric hypersonic flight. We do not yet know how to achieve the desired control during the aerodynamic phase of flight. It's vexing; I'm confident there is a solution. We have to find it."

Over the coming weeks the data collected from the second test flight will be analyzed by an independent Engineering Review Board. No announcement has been made regarding a third test flight.

"In the April 2010 test, we obtained four times the amount of data previously available at these speeds. Today more than 20 air, land, sea and space data collection systems were operational. We'll learn. We'll try again. That's what it takes," said DARPA Director Regina Dugan.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Looks like they need to add a paperclip to the nose, or tweak the wings a bit. Why does this remind me of our folded paper planes?


How \'bout some data on the price of this super-expensive toy, especially the cost to we the unwilling taxpayers? I\'m getting damned sick and tired of finding out this garbage is going on and without our input of whether or not we want it. Sounds to me like a super-duper, unmanned stealth-drone bomber that can be launched from here in the U.S. to rain death and destruction down from the skies anywhere in the world on whoever our enlightened leaders say is our enemy. Welcome to the future of endless techno war, folks. Some would call it hell on earth.

Neil Larkins

LOL 'paperclip' good thinking - I just wonder how many hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on this program. I mean who on earth is so important that they need the capacity to be anywhere in less than 60 minutes I mean who cares can we pour those billions into something with a more real world applicability and benefit please, at the rate were going the earth will shake us off long before sub orbital atmospheric aircraft flight ever reaches the mainstream chrimany the Concord was too far advanced for us to manage safety it seems, sheesh, let's keep raising taxes and debt limits so we can keep projects like this funded PU-LEESE!


My guess would be that part of the skin or a control surface eroded under the plasma flow.


At nine minutes of flight time at that speed it would have flown about 1950 miles, about a third of the way to China...

Robert Volk

Yes, because it\'s so much better to stop spending on defense and hope no one ever attacks us again.

And this is the way R&D works, folks. Complex systems rarely, if ever, work the first time. Sometimes they never work at all. But if we only attempt things we already know how to do, we never advance at all. IF this eventually works, it has the potential to let us drastically reduce the size of our armed forces, because we wouldn\'t need to maintain air bases everywhere in the world.


@ Neil. Total cost to taxpayers so far is about $320 million. Pretty cheap considering what we could do with this kind of technology. Compared to the $1 trillion national healthcare fiasco going on right now, it\'s a drop in the bucket @ 0.00032% of that total waste of money.

Dorian Moffat

you know, if it wasn\'t for the military you wouldn\'t have things like oh, freedom. Oh yes, cell phones, GPS, and yes even the internet. did i mention freedom? I think experiments like these are awesome, keep it up Big Sammy.


Always nice to look at the bright side of things Neil :-) Actually many, many people considered the NASA Space Program of the \"man to the moon\" era and beyond as little more than a weaponization advancement platform. Whatever it was, the outcomes of that program have been astounding and had a significant impact on all aspects of life. Going where we haven\'t, going faster than we ever have; pushing the limits often get us much more than we even imagined going in.

James Davis

Military tech is cool, but I agree that maybe we should maybe cut back on the R&D while we are paying so much for the troops on the ground in our wars. If we could take the military down to 10% of our budget, that would be cool (or keep it at 20% and find good ways to reduce the other parts of our budget too, like unified national health care and some sensible adjustments to SS). Also, if the military halts R&D in wartime and then brings it back during peacetime, defense contractors will suddenly have an incentive to actually help end wars instead of simply being interested in perpetuating them. Let\'s face it, you wouldn\'t hand tribal leaders RPG\'s if you knew it would cut into other funding for the next 50 years, and if you were really smart, you might even stop selling guns to drug lords.

Charles Bosse

Wow, Hypersonic, divergent phugoids.


Dorian Moffat: \"Compared to the $1 trillion national healthcare fiasco going on right now, it\'s a drop in the bucket @ 0.00032% of that total waste of money.\" So in your opinion it\'s far better to kill people in other countries than save lives in the U.S. is it? Knowing that you support that kind of slaughter should make the warmongers in the current administration very happy. If they can\'t kick start the economy with consumerism they can always do so by spending money on more weapons.


Anywhere in the world in 60 minutes? Cool. I am glad there aren\'t any pilots in these craft.

Carlos Grados

sanden & Bob: The US spends more than all the other countries combined on the military. If we closed all foreign bases, ended the invasions, and cut spending on offense to only spending on defense would we be slaves? Would we lose our property rights, wait, eminent domain; habeas corpus, wait, Patriot Act killed that; free speech, wait, Sedition Act; right to assembly & protest, wait, with permit in free speech zones only. So tell me, what \"freedom\" are you talking about? And if our military is what makes us \"free\" how does Switzerland do it? Canada? Japan? ect, ect. That old saw has no teeth left.


There are no Drops in the Bucket affordable at this time. One more 9 minute failure & cancel the damned thing. Let Virgin and Richard fund it.


Unless there is a \"typo\", they meant 9 seconds instead of 9 minutes , that test flight is a roaring success. If that device flew for 9 minutes in controlled flight at MACH 20 then somebody on their team is a genius. A wind tunnel is of little use, too low air speed; A supercomputer is no good: too limited unless it is equivalent to a aeronautical WATSON: the margin for error at half that speed is infinitesimal; so how did they manage that feat? It must be 9 seconds: before some unknown vibration set in. Couldn\'t be 9 minutes. Does it hold that much fuel? Like one commenter said it would be 1/3 the way to China. If it is true ,9 minutes, then how could the engineers be disappointed? Even 9 seconds under controlled and monitored flight is not bad at that speed. For people who build things and make them work, even just on the ground, we know how impossibly difficult it would be to control that device at that speed. A computer on board couldn\'t react fast enough. So, the engineers have to anticipate 98% of all possibilities of occurrences and build in a response. If it did indeed fly nine minutes then \"CHAPEAU\".


A\'Tuin, voluntaryist,, spot on

Bill Bennett

Freedom and what not is alot to think on, but this tech is like a guitar amp that goes to 11. Imagine... 11 The idealist in me imagines this will increase world peace by petrifying any individual in the world that wants to be in the same place for more than 60 minutes. Somehow, I think there are diminishing returns at work. The plausible applications of this tech are clear... this is a head shot.

Tom Silverstrim

And if our military is what makes us "free" how does Switzerland do it? Canada? Japan? ect, ect. That old saw has no teeth left. comment voluntaryist - August 12, 2011 @ 01:48 pm PDT


William Warner

Creating problems to fix problems! How will this help the national budget or solve health care?


Charles Bosse\'s EXCELLENT comment, posted her - August 12, 2011 @ 12:34 pm PDT comment,

\". . . . if the military halts R&D in wartime and then brings it back during peacetime, defense contractors will suddenly have an incentive to actually help end wars instead of simply being interested in perpetuating them. . . .\"

Is one of the best, most practical, and quickly doable economic and technology ideas I have read in a very long time!

Lee Cash

Wonder if it\'s REALLY that necessary? What do they need this craft for? I doubt it will solve any important problem or fulfill a critical task, and even if it would, it would hardly justify the cost put into it. So to put it straight - stop dumping crazy money on expensive military toys and address some REAL needs of people!

Михаил Финогенов

Guys, all those that cry about it failed so lets not spend money on it for what ever reason, remember that a lot of your everyday life has improved because of these guys doing the R&D for NASA and Defense, as a matter of fact, if you served in the military you should know all the improvements that where given to you to make things more safe and secure for those troops. Your kitchen is full of those R&D from NASA. There is no gain without pain. I for one do not agree on the procedures in handing out the contracts for some of the R&D dollars. There is a lot of waste that could be saved. But without those guys going to full 10 yards, we would still be at the horse and buggy stage. Vastly improved horse and buggy, but that is all. Keep in mind since the moon landing, all doors are open to R&D. And if do not continue on this path, the future is very dark......So stop whining about the money, just think if you lower the pay and numbers at the governmental, boy now that is money saved...... Just saying!!


To the naysayers of this project : pure and applied scientific research has great value. For one thing, it keeps highly intelligent people employed in your own country and makes it a focal point for others to come, thereby keeping the intellectual property internal rather than you having to buy it from others.

Of course, you could make the point that it\'s a waste of money. People like that should try going back to pre-industrial days and weave their own clothes using spinning wheels only, not to mention using horses instead of cars... Bet you change your mind fast !

Peter Winquist

Ok.. as mach as this project is only to rain death down on anyone anywhere on the face of the planet - in like 20 minutes or less.....

The tech and research behind it, is REALLY impressive.

I am still looking forward to the punch holes in time and space stuff tho - to appear and disappear at any point in the ENTIRE known universe almost instantly, for under $10 a pop and with less power than in a AA battery.

Mr Stiffy

Personally I think these kinds of projects are the only way that we\'ll ever advance ourselves. If no-one bothers to come up with anything new, why bother moving out of the Iron age, or the stone age for that matter? The advances in technologies benefit our businesses and universities (DON\'T bother moaning that not everyone has the opportunity to do this...)and over time increase the wealth of knowledge we will absolutely need when we finally get off this tiny planet and go somewhere else.

The problem I see with this is, how can we claim it will get an arbitrary \'someone/something\' anywhere in the world in under an hour? This thing needs a suborbital rocket to get it to low earth orbit (does everyone maintain a spacesuit just in case), and how the hell does it release/drop/land its payload when it gets \'there\'? if I\'m not wrong, it is designed to fly at unbelievable speeds, and I would imagine it\'s not optimised for sub-500 mph flight or landing yet. Anyone for supersonic sky-diving....? Breathe in.... oh, no you can\'t, you\'ve just been turned inside out by the flesh ripping windspeed.

Otherwise, a cracking idea, well done for the 9 second/minute flight. I don\'t think we\'ll be converting Heathrow Terminal 5 just yet..:)


Clearly a weapon to be used to assassinate anyone the US government considers a threat to the prosperity of the people owning and running the corporations of Amerika. No need to station drones overseas to blow up the house of someone when you can launch one of these babies and be there in 30 minutes on average.

This is really just a super duty cruise missile-drone hybrid that has no legitimate use in terms of either ethics or world law - not that the US elites care at all about international law or morality.


This has other benefits, like space travel. cheap space travel to the moon and back from a platform that can launch from the ground.

Also the hypersonic bit is being tested by drones to save human lives. Good thinking for once.

The other bit of good thinking is that this tech will eventually trickle down to commercial aircraft.

Yes it will probably be made into a weapon. However DARPA also helps with other health tech items like the electric tooth brush, the web, gps, cellular radio, tracking devices all started off a s purely US military. So not happy about the killing part but waiting when this tech will make it possible to take off for the moon and fly back.

Hilary Albutt
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