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12 Bacteria in agriculture and industry
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Vol. 7, No. 5. May 31, 2012
ISSN 1932-3018

Hypersonic aircraft
Positioning this technology in the
Functionality Grid
Reformatted from: Van Wyk, Rias J: Technology - A Unifying Code, 2004, SMG, Cape Town, p.34. Based on: Ropohl, Gunter: Eine Systemtheorie der Technik, 1979, Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich and Vienna, p.178.
This Newsbrief deals with steps towards a hypersonic aircraft. In particular it draws attention to difficulties of achieving the speeds required to maintain the long-term trend in anticipated speeds. In terms of the Atlas of Technology it is concerned with the transport of matter (M).
A rapid increase in the speed of commercial aircraft was a well-established technological trend in the first half of the twentieth century - speeds increased eightfold from just over 100 km/h in the early years to 800 km/h in the 1960s. Technology forecasters anticipated a continuation of this trend.
The mid seventies saw the introduction of the first supersonic commercial aircraft, the Concorde, with an airspeed of about 2000 km/h. But Concorde was withdrawn from service in 2003. Overall, commercial aircraft speeds remained in the subsonic range. To regain the momentum of the early part of the speed trend, aircraft technology would have to achieve hypersonic speeds early in the 21st century. Hypersonic implies an order of magnitude faster than supersonic, i.e., in the region of 10,000 to 20,000 km/h.
Many organizations, notably the military, are experimenting with high-speed craft. The latest news concerns an unmanned Hypersonic Technology Vehicle (HTV-2) capable of achieving 20,000 km/h. Tests highlighted the technological difficulties of achieving hypersonic speeds. News reports state that the craft crashed in the Pacific Ocean during a test flight, after large portions of the outer layer peeled off. (Ferran, L. "Supersecret hypersonic aircraft flew out of its skin" ABC News as reported on Yahoo, April 23, 2012). On the NASA nine point scale of technology readiness levels (TRLs), the HTV- 2 was close to TRL5.
Little evidence has emerged of re-establishing the earlier part of the speed trend for commercial craft. To move capabilities forward, technology explorers should expect an increasing focus on hypersonic support technologies, and a challenge from other quarters such as space craft.

© Rias J. van Wyk, 2013. Editor.