By Andrew Liszewski
Here’s the dilemma. Planes that travel at supersonic speeds can’t fly for extended periods of time without having to refuel. At the same time planes that are capable of staying aloft for half a day or longer can’t achieve supersonic speeds since they rely on large wingspans for fuel-efficient flight. The U.S. military of course wants a plane that is capable of both.
Darpa (the real inventors of the internet) have just given Northrop Grumman $10.3 million to design a plane that can loiter outside enemy territory for hours at a time but can also achieve supersonic speeds in order to safely attack and escape from hostile targets. Northrop plans to achieve this with a uniquely designed aircraft that is capable of changing shape. During normal flight the plane’s 200 foot wing will sit perpendicular to the engines like on a normal aircraft. To achieve supersonic flight the wing will swivel 60 degrees so that one end of the wing points forward while the other points back which allows the plane to deal with the shockwaves caused by supersonic speeds.
A detailed blueprint of the plane should be finished by November of 2007 with an actual flying prototype to be delivered 4 years later. I’m pretty surprised that this plane would be capable of flying at all with the wing pivoted like that, let alone at supersonic speeds but then again that’s probably why I wasn’t hired to build it.