By Otilia Drăgan

Supersonic and hypersonic aircraft are slowly but surely coming back to the forefront of aviation. NASA is in the last development stages of its supersonic research aircraft, X-59, and Stratolaunch is getting ready to operate its first hypersonic test vehicle, the Talon-A. 8 photos

Despite previous attempts, the hypersonic flight is still in its infancy and requires a lot of testing, which wouldn’t be possible without an adequate launch platform. Stratolaunch first developed Roc, the world’s largest airplane, meant to act as a multi-vehicle carrier aircraft for hypersonic test vehicles. Roc has already completed two test flights, with several others to follow.

Another recent milestone for Stratolaunch is the successful completion of the Critical Design Review (CDR) for its first hypersonic vehicle, the Talon-A, which was carried and launched by the Roc. 

With a 28-foot (8.5 meters) length and a wingspan of more than 11 feet (3.4 meters), this revolutionary vehicle is an aircraft capable of long-duration flight at speeds over Mach 5. When launched from the Roc aircraft, it can then perform an autonomous, horizontal landing, but it’s also capable of autonomous take-off from conventional runways. The advantage of the Roc is that it can launch multiple Talon-A vehicles in the air, on a single flight.

Since it’s meant to act as a testbed for hypersonic flight, the Talon-A will be used to collect data in a true flight environment at speeds over Mach 5. The highly-advanced instruments on board are capable of gathering and delivering essential aerothermal and performance data. Depending on the nature of future research projects, the Talon-A can also carry classified payloads with highly-secured data collection and transmission to ground stations.

Another innovation of this hypersonic vehicle is that it’s reusable, which means that onboard instrumentation and payloads can be recovered, inspected, and used for future missions. 

With the initial airframe assembly process of the Talon-A now completed, Stratolaunch has now begun subsystems installation and is gearing up for functional testing at the beginning of next year.