Feb 2, 2022
Boeing has unveiled a new model of a proposed reusable hypersonic aircraft at a conference this week. The design is an evolution of concepts that were first displayed publicly four years ago and could potentially have military and commercial applications, including as a space launch mothership, according to the company.
Aviation Week Senior Editor Guy Norris spotted the model at the annual AIAA SciTech Forum and Exposition in San Diego, California, which opened on Monday and will wrap up on Friday, and posted pictures of it on Twitter. There is little hard information about it so far, but The War Zone has already reached out to Boeing for details.
On Twitter, Aviation Week's Norris said that the design was an evolution of a concept that Boeing had unveiled at the 2018 SciTech Forum. It is "a refined, more realistic Mach 5 reusable air-breathing design targeting military and space launch roles," he explained. Mach 5 is the accepted threshold for hypersonic speed.
The model Boeing has at its booth at the 2021 SciTech Forum has some very general similarities in its overall planform with the one it displayed in 2018, the latter of which is seen in the video below, but the new design is significantly different in many respects. It has a flatter central fuselage, as well as shorter wings and twin tails. The positioning of two engines underneath the fuselage has been changed, with them now being contained inside two distinct fairings rather than side-by-side.
Aviation Week's Defense Editor Steve Trimble also noted that there is a conspicuous gap between the mold line of the forward fuselage and where the wing root starts on either side, despite them looking like they might be supposed to be aligned. It is unclear if this is simply a product of how the model was made or if it actually reflects a true aspect of the design.
It's not clear what kind of engines Boeing might expect to power this aircraft, but the company has explored various advanced high-speed jet engines in the past, including scramjets and so-called "combined cycle" concepts. A turbine-based combined cycle (TBCC) engine configuration pairs traditional jet turbines with ramjets or scramjets. Ramjets and scramjets simply do not work optimally, or even at all, at lower speeds, so the other turbines would be used for flight in those speed regimes. Viable TBCC engine arrangements are highly complex and are considered by some as a holy grail technology when it comes to designing viable reusable hypersonic aircraft that can take off and land using existing runway infrastructure.