USAF Chief Scientist Pushes Innovation

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Blackswift model photo credit: Bill Sweetman

Three and a half years into what is traditionally a two-year posting, Mark Lewis, chief scientist for the U.S. Air Force, continues to push for innovation and advancement in hypersonics, materials research and operationally responsive space.

One advanced program on the horizon is an all-composite cargo plane, for which a Request for Information (RFI) has just been released. “It came from a direct interest of [Air Force] Secretary [Michael] Wynne, who asked the question, ‘Can we build a plastic C-5?’” Lewis said March 5 at a Space Foundation event in Washington. “A blended wing body might be one of the attractive options ... let’s keep all options on the table. Good science depends on the competition of ideas.”

The RFI for EAGL, as the program is called, is an “expansive, open-minded request,” Lewis said, that extends to materials. “It doesn’t have to be classic composites. It could be a hybrid system.”

Lewis also mentioned a recent Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on a project called Blackswift, between the Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). “Blackswift is a turbine-based, combine cycle system” that takes off as a traditional aircraft with an air-breathing engine and then converts to a scramjet at altitude. “The key technical challenge is the hand-off ... switching between turbine and scramjet.” According to Lewis, a Request for Proposals (RFP) will be released soon, although “we don’t know what it will look like. DARPA has funded the initial concept development.”

Complete detail of this story can be found in Aviation Week at:

Aviation Week

Published March 7, 2008