PACT FOR PILOTLESS BOMBER LOCKHEED MARTIN TO EXAMINE DESIGNS.
PALMDALE - Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company-Palmdale was awarded a contract for more than $1.2 million to examine designs and identify technologies needed for a pilotless, hypersonic bomber capable of striking targets anywhere in the world in less than two hours.
Lockheed Martin was one of three companies awarded contracts under a joint Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Air Force program called Force Application and Launch from the Continental U.S., or FALCON for short.
The ultimate goal of the program is to develop an aircraft capable of flying at least 3,500 mph - more than 1,000 mph faster than the current record holder - and able to carry 12,000 pounds of cruise missiles or small-diameter bombs.
``This capability would free the U.S. military from reliance on forward basing to enable it to react promptly and decisively to destabilizing or threatening actions by hostile countries and terrorist organizations,'' according to a DARPA contract solicitation.
The contract involves work on three vehicles - the hypersonic aircraft, a smaller unmanned craft called the common aero vehicle, and the enhanced common aero vehicle.
The common aero vehicle would be an unpowered, maneuverable, hypersonic glider capable of carrying approximately 1,000 pounds of munitions, with a range of approximately 3,000 miles.
Ultimately, the unmanned craft could be launched from the hypersonic vehicle, but defense officials are looking to develop a relatively inexpensive launch system so it could go into service sooner - perhaps by 2010.
The enhanced common aero vehicle would be a more advanced design of the common aero vehicle and would have greater range and improved maneuverability.
Also awarded contracts were Andrews Space Inc., a Seattle-based company, and Northrop Grumman's Air Combat Systems unit, based in El Segundo. A fourth contract is being considered, defense officials said.
Defense officials are also looking to use the same technologies developed in the hypersonic bomber program for launching small satellites into space. DARPA and the Air Force awarded nine contracts ranging from $350,000 to $540,000 to develop what they call the small launch vehicle or SLV.
The SLV would be capable of placing a small satellite or other payload weighing approximately 1,000 pounds into a low Earth orbit at a total launch cost of less than $5 million. Defense officials hope it will be ready by 2010.
Jim Skeen, (661) 267-5743