MACH: Much Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

Artist rendering of proposed hypersonic aircraft. © 2020 Getty Images.

Engineers Will Combine HRL Laboratories’ Technologies to Develop Novel Leading-Edge Metals for Hypersonic Flight

HRL Laboratories, LLC, will design architected material-based leading edges of hypersonic aircraft as part of the Materials Architectures and Characterization for Hypersonics (MACH) program from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

This project takes advantage of many novel materials architecture advances developed in recent years at HRL and connects them

“Hypersonic speed is Mach 5 and above, but our ultimate goal is in excess of Mach 20,” said HRL’s Hunter Martin, co-PI on the project. “The idea for the program is to architect a thermally stable material into very sharp leading edges that will maintain their shape during hypersonic flight. We can currently create sharp leading edges, but existing materials quickly degrade and edges become blunt. This adversely affects maneuverability and aerodynamics, reducing efficiency and making the vehicle difficult or even impossible to control.”

“Ideally these vehicles will maintain speed and maneuverability at the lowest altitude possible,” Martin said. “Flying at low altitude with increased air density increases the heat load faster than at higher altitudes, and the material can quickly exceed its operating temperature range.”

“We hope to use fundamental materials science to enable improved systems-level performance in a material that’s never been realized before,” said HRL engineer Eric Clough. “At this speed we are most worried about the work the material is doing compressing the air at the leading edge. It’s a tremendous amount of heat and pressure.”

“We’ve come up with a technology that leverages several of our core competencies, including additive manufacturing, metallurgy, and heat transfer, combining them into one leading edge technology,” said HRL’s Chris Roper, co-PI on the project. “This project takes advantage of many novel materials architecture advances developed in recent years at HRL and connects them.”

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HRL Laboratories, LLC, Malibu, California ( is a corporate research-and-development laboratory owned by The Boeing Company and General Motors specializing in research into sensors and materials, information and systems sciences, applied electromagnetics, and microelectronics. HRL provides custom research and development and performs additional R&D contract services for its LLC member companies, the U.S. government, and other commercial companies.

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