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The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has completed the fourth and final test flight under the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) programme, the agency announced on 30 January.

Launched from a US Air Force B-52 strategic bomber, this was the second HAWC flight to use a test vehicle produced by Lockheed Martin and the Aerojet Rocketdyne.

Artists impression of the complete HAWC hypersonic system with both stages (Graphic: Lockheed Martin)

Upon launch the first stage of the HAWC system brought it to the engine ignition target area, where its Aerojet Rocketdyne scramjet ignited and accelerated the vehicle to a speed of over Mach 5, Lockheed Martin stated, adding that the system performed as predicted, travelling more than 550 kilometres (300 nautical miles) and reaching altitudes of more than 18 kilometres (60,000 feet).

Two other HAWC flight tests have used a test vehicle made by Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.

Artists impression of the HAWC hypersonic system, second stage (Graphic: Lockheed Martin)

The HAWC programme is providing critical data to inform Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) hypersonic technology maturation efforts. Although the programme has now completed its final phase, there is still data to analyse and further opportunities to develop the technology, DARPA said. The agency plans to continue this maturation under the More Opportunities with HAWC (MOHAWC) programme by building and flying more vehicles that build on HAWC’s advances. These missiles are intended to expand the scramjet’s operational envelope and provide technological entry points for future programmes.