Mark Anderson, director of platform performance technology for Boeing Research and Technology, asserts that U.S. aerospace is “teetering on the brink of being able to do low-boom supersonic flight.” But without NASA, “who is going to take a risk like that? I'm concerned we're backing away from this.”
The report also singled out the agency's ERA effort and recommended that NASA “collaborate with the Defense Department and FAA on a subsonic experimental aircraft that would integrate advanced aerodynamics, structures and engine technology. Hypersonics, which will be effectively dropped under current budget plans (see following article), should also be revived, it says. The agency should “reform” the hypersonic project around a specific goal of developing and demonstrating technology for a vehicle that within 25 years could fly on “point-to-point flights” anywhere on Earth in a few hours. For this effort, NASA should again coordinate with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and other defense organizations. “The committee feels that the whole area of hypersonics will not advance, cannot advance, without flight testing,” says Harris.
Although NASA concurs with the NRC's views on the importance of flight research and the need for greater collaboration, Irvine says the agency “takes exception to the assertion that NASA is not making progress or contributing to advancing the aviation industry.” Furthermore, the agency believes the report is too “vehicle-centric” in recommending the phasing out of low-priority activities to fund “high-risk, high-return, interdisciplinary programs.”
Aurora Flight Sciences CEO John Langford recommends that NASA establish an ongoing, competitive flight-research program modeled on the Discovery and Mars Scout space missions. Pointing to the Sikorsky X-2 as a recent example, he says that “there is plenty of evidence that cutting-edge flight-research programs can be accomplished for around $50 million per project.”