Not much is known about the concept at the moment, but it is more than likely that the Mach 5+ machine will be used not only for space industry, but also for military purposes. Guy Norris, editor-in-chief of Aviation Week, caught a model of Boeing’s all-new hypersonic aircraft at the AIAA SciTech show in San Diego recently. The editor-in-chief shared pictures of the new aircraft on Twitter, which were immediately spotted by a contributor to the online news site The Drive.
Four years after first unveiling its hypersonic airliner concept at #AIAASciTech 2018 @Boeing has revealed a refined, more realistic Mach 5 reusable air-breathing design targeting military and space launch roles at @aiaa San Diego event pic.twitter.com/CtpxA5OJGn— Guy Norris (@AvWeekGuy) January 4, 2022
According to the Aviation Week editor-in-chief’s tweets, Boeing had already unveiled a similar design for a hypersonic aircraft called the Valkyrie at the 2018 SciTech Forum, but this year’s version has already been updated with a number of subtle changes. According to Guy Norris, this year’s version is a “more realistic, more sophisticated design aimed at space exploration and launch, as well as military missions.”
Although Boeing’s current model is basically the same as the previous version, some of the more important differences are visible to the naked eye: the fuselage is flatter in the middle, the wings are shorter and the engines are more widely spaced, in two prominent nacelles. Another Aviation Week editor, Steve Timble, even noticed a peculiar slip at the junction of the wingtip and the fuselage. Based on the information available, the journalist could not yet determine whether the odd fit was part of the original design or whether the mock-up had been sloppily assembled.
Almost nothing is known about the more technical specifications of the aircraft, except that the target hypersonic speed is defined as five times the speed of sound, which is a brutal speed of around 6174 km/h. Exactly what kind of engines will be used to achieve this speed is not yet known, but it is more than likely that ramjet or scramjet engines will be fitted. However, as these engines are barely or not at all operable at low speeds, it is more than likely that they will be used in conjunction with conventional jet engines.
As to why Boeing decided to come up with another hypersonic plane at this time, we can only guess: while the 2018 show’s model was presumably a response to the SR-72, another hypersonic plane developed by Lockheed Martin that received a lot of attention that year, this year’s launch date was suspiciously close to the release of a new batch of information about the US Air Force’s secret Project Mayhem programme. Still very little is known about the latter programme, but what is already emerging is that the emphasis is on developing hypersonic aircraft capable of carrying out strike, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
Boeing also seems to be aiming for a “hypersonic laurel” in space exploration: in March 2021, the Australian arm of Boeing’s R&D division entered into a partnership with Hypersonix Launch Systems, which is also planning a hypersonic vehicle. It would use Hypersonix’s SPARTAN scramjet engines to deliver payloads into space.