France propels itself into the limelight as the latest member of an exclusive group of countries boasting hypersonic capabilities. This success story follows the initial flight of the V-MAX (Véhicule Manoeuvrant Expérimental), a hypersonic glider, as publicly declared by the Direction générale de l'armement (DGA).
First Flight of Hypersonic Glider V-MAX
The V-MAX program, introduced in 2019, is led by ArianeGroup and primarily leverages research from the Office National d'Études et de Recherches Aérospatiales (ONERA). The glider's maiden flight marks an impressive achievement, given that France's former hypersonic program VERAS (Véhicule expérimental de recherches aérothermodynamiques et structurales) was shelved in the 1970s due to financial restrictions.
Collaboration with the Pentagon
The first details of the V-MAX flight were shared by the Pentagon, hinting at a collaboration with the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD). The test flight was launched from Biscarrosse, France, and the specifics surrounding V-MAX have largely been kept under wraps for security reasons.
Images Limited yet Revealing
While imagery of the V-MAX test flight has been mostly confined to launch pad photographs and amateur photos circulated on the internet, the DGA did release the first computer-generated images of the glider in January 2023. Eyeing the design of the V-MAX, parallels can be drawn with its Russian, American, and Chinese counterparts. The glider, however, does feature unique attributes such as a rounder profile.
The V-MAX, a deviation from the earlier VERAS concept, is powered by a multi-stage rocket and is capable of ricocheting off the Earth's atmosphere at speeds surpassing Mach 5. The key hurdles confronting the project team include crafting a guidance system with improved maneuverability and sourcing materials resistant to extreme heat.
Future of V-MAX
There are plans for a V-MAX 2, a more advanced prototype, with funding secured from the Ministry of the Armed Forces for additional testing. An advisor to ArianeGroup anticipates the V-MAX 2 will commence its maiden flight in 2024 or 2025. The technology behind the V-MAX is speculated to hold promising civil applications in the future.