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The Military Science

USAF Launch Supersonic Bomb Firing Technology 257

coondoggie writes "Boeing and the US Air Force today said they have tested new technology that for the first time will let military aircraft launch bombs from aircraft moving at supersonic speeds. Researchers from Boeing Phantom Works and the Air Force Research Laboratory used a rocket sled in combination with what researchers called "active flow control" to successfully release a smart bomb known as MK-82 Joint Direct Attack Munition Standard Test Vehicle (JDAM) at a speed of about Mach 2 from a weapons bay with a size approximating that of the U.S. Air Force B-1 bomber, Boeing said. Active flow control is a tandem array of microjets upstream of the weapons bay that, when fired reduces the unsteady pressures inside the bay and modifies the flow outside to ensure the JDAM munition travels out of the bay correctly."
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USAF Launch Supersonic Bomb Firing Technology

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  • We miss often enough at sub-sonic speeds. Great.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      We miss often enough at sub-sonic speeds

      ...and with this exact same test weapon. For a few dollars more, they'll develop an even better JDAM!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2007 @12:14AM (#21514051)
      > We miss often enough at sub-sonic speeds. Great.

      Dude, check your history. In WW2, we used to send hundreds of bombers (sometimes over a thousand), each of which dropped dozens of dumb bombs, all just to hit one ball-bearing factory or bridge. We'd lose 10-20% of the attacking aircraft, and we'd send the survivors (and their replacements) out again later that week because we still didn't hit the target.

      Towards the end of WW2, we realized that the most efficient way of destroying target X was to drop enough incendiaries around target X that the resulting firestorm would sweep over target X, destroying it in the process. We killed as many people in the firebombing of Tokyo as we did a few months later using goddamn nukes.

      I'm not saying we're perfect. I'm just saying we're a hell of a lot closer to perfection than WW2-era pilots (or even Vietnam-era pilots) could have dreamed of. We spend a hell of a lot of money every year making sure we miss as infrequently as possible. If we were willing to accept the levels of collateral damage our parents were, never mind our grandparents, this war would have been over in a week, and there would have been tens of millions of civilians incinerated.

      Be angry that we miss as often as we do -- it not only keeps weapons designers employed, sometimes it's their motivation for their career choice. But be damn grateful that we don't miss anywhere near as often as we used to.

      • WWII was really a low point, though, rather than a long-lived status quo. It was the only modern total war (with both sides freely slaughtering civilians, up to tens of thousands per day, using every weapon up to and including WMD). My point being, let's not only compare ourselves to the greatest catastrophe in human history. Bombing a wedding or shooting down an airliner are still awfully bad things, even if we do it with super-cool weaponry.
      • by jotok ( 728554 )
        Dude, check your history. During Iraq 1/2 & Afghanistan we STILL had pilots dropping on the wrong building, missing the target, etc. This is with laser and GPS guidance.

        The comparison should not be with WW2, it should be with the last bombing exercise. That's what we're improving over.
        • by khallow ( 566160 )
          That's not a particularly useful observation to make. Bombs will never work perfectly and even if they did, they would still hit the wrong target on occasion simply because the wrong target was targeted, say due to faulty intelligence or because the enemy had moved out earlier. My take is that US bombs work well enough that the real hurdle is getting good, timely intelligence on a potential war target. I don't know how much you can improve a bomb dropped out of a plane. Maybe some sort of "nonlethal" ordina
      • Not 100% true in terms of WWII history, at least in some places. High altitude bombing was never very effective, but the naval bombers in the Pacific theater got very very good at hitting their targets with less civilian casualties. How do I know? Because I lived in Japan for two years about thirty years ago, and once had friends nearby who took me to the site of an old, bombed out munitions factory that was completely surrounded by really really old Japanese houses and a nearby religious temple. I was t
  • Huh? The USAF was launching bombs (and missles) out of bomb bays (and off of pylons) at supersonic speeds back in the 1950's.
    This new system is probably needed because the rotary launcher used by the B-1 doesn't allow enough clearance for, or won't take the stresses associated with, the kicker systems used back then.
    • by solitas ( 916005 )
      I can't figure out the article: they're talking about "launching" bombs. I normally take it that 'bombs' are dropped and 'missles' are launched; bombs use gravity and missles are powered.

      Are they trying to say that they're firing the bombs backward to the direction of flight so that they end up with significantly lower forward-velocity and, thus, fall with a shorter ground track?

      I can figure it must be merry hell trying to sight a target SO far ahead (at your given speed and altitude) that you have to drop
      • by c_forq ( 924234 )
        Modern bombs are launched (at least precision guided ones). The type of bomb you are thinking of is actually called a Gravity bomb [].
      • I can figure it must be merry hell trying to sight a target SO far ahead...

        Apparently from the F22 at mach 1.5 and 50,000 ft, these "falling" bombs can travel 24 nautical miles (45Km!) and hit a target (under test conditions). Thats at least 1.5 minutes travel time ignoring any real world physical constraints...
    • Maybe we were launching bombs off pylons as supersonic speeds, but probably not bomb bays. As the article indicates, supersonic airstream around the plane would have blown the bomb back into the bomb bay, with obviously disastrous results. What this technology does is use small jets to locally slow down the airstream around the bomb bay so that the bomb can fall out of the bay without getting pushed back inside.

      As another poster indicated, this technology would be useful for the F-22, which has to carry i
      • Maybe we were launching bombs off pylons as supersonic speeds, but probably not bomb bays.

        Wrong. The A-12 launched its missles from bomb bays. The B-70 dropped its bombs from bomb bays. Then there is the F-102 and -106.

        As the article indicates, supersonic airstream around the plane would have blown the bomb back into the bomb bay, with obviously disastrous results.

        That's true for bombs/missiles dropped under gravity alone. That's not true for bombs/missiles ejected rather than dropped.

      • I would be interested in seeing how much of the stealth capability is lost when the doors are opened (radar/heat profile).
  • How much did we pay for this?
  • by Bragador ( 1036480 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @09:52PM (#21513111)
    There is no such thing as investing TOO MUCH in the military. People that are saying we should focus more money on social problems and the economy don't understand that military technology can be applied to fix social problems eventually.

    Rejoice for now we can drop food and medical supplies at supersonic speed! I can't wait to see the look on those African kids!

    • by Cassius Corodes ( 1084513 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @10:00PM (#21513169)
      Why drop food, which fixes the problem for a few days at most, when dropping a bomb will permanently fix the problem.
    • Totally off-topic, but you just gave me an odd idea. I wonder if perhaps bunker-buster bombs could be fired into a patch of land at such an angle and to such a depth that the blast propelled the soil up and as low to the ground as possible (to prevent it from blowing aside and forming a hole,) essentially tilling a patch of land all at once for us! Back on topic, now what I just said done in Africa at supersonic speeds!
    • Well (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 )
      Please remember that military spending isn't without benefit. Often technologies are developed there that then later become useful for civilians that are just the kind of thing you aren't likely to see developed on the commercial market.

      Best example is GPS. No way a company was going to build something like that. Even a government wouldn't do that for civilian reasons. However the military felt it was worth it. Out of that we now have an awesome navigation system used the world over, and finally because of
      • by san ( 6716 )
        If we'd have spent the amounts of money we're spending on the military on just research, we'd be flying in fusion powered cars right now, controlled by THz CPUs that have 1nm transistors.

        Your argument is ridiculous given the $5e11 dollars per year the US alone is spending on its military (without Iraq war funding!); compare that to the $3e10 that goes to NSF+NIH (the primary funding sources for research in the US). And this is just the US.

      • I agree that a lot of technological advances come from places like the DoD and NASA. I also agree that a lot of these advances would never come from private enterprise. But then it becomes gray on a tech-by-tech basis. GPS? Of course navigation was going to be big. People didn't see it then, but now it's apparent. This tech is a little different though. I believe it'll be more difficult to find non-military uses for shoving something big from a bomb bay at supersonic speeds. Perhaps it'll come in hander for
  • by YU5333021 ( 1093141 ) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @10:20PM (#21513311) Homepage
    ... upon hearing the news, the Russians have taken the concept to the next, logical extreme. Code named "Mamushka" the first supersonic plane will fire a smaller plane traveling twice as fast, which will fire yet another smaller plane traveling 4 times faster than the first one, and so on until the very last, smallest plane (traveling an nearly the speed of light) will fire a potato that will hit the original big plane in the back, thus demonstrating that like many other US expenditures, they are at least good for HUMOR.

    Next up, basketballs that bounce 10 times as high. Is gonna change the game!
    • They can't do that. That idea is the intelectual property of Dr. Suess.
    • by temojen ( 678985 )

      Next up, basketballs that bounce 10 times as high. Is gonna change the game!

      Try this one on for size.... stack up a small playground ball on top of a medium one anmd stack those on top of a large one... drop the 3 of them from about six feet and watch the little one hit the ceiling...

    • I think the dolls you're referring to would be rendered in english phonetics as "matroishka". Mamushka sounds like "babushka", which would be a plane-load of supersonic grandmothers. Holy Christ, that is a disturbing thought. They'd descend on our troops with an unstoppable rain of warm soups and freshly-knitted sweaters would be everywhere!

      (I took russian many years ago in college, so please pardon any errors.)
  • The sled train accelerated to more than 13 g's to get to peak velocity, then decelerated at 7.5 g's for more than a mile to stop," the company said.
    I want a ride on that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by stox ( 131684 )
      If I am not mistaken, at 7.5 negative G's, your eyeballs would pop out of your head. The human body can take significantly more positive G's than negative. Oh, and at 13 positive G's, sustained, you would pass out. Doesn't sound like much fun to me.
  • almost 50 years ago. The B-58C, if it had been built, would have been able to do it at Mach 3.
    • The B-58 carried its bomb externally.
      • by Nimey ( 114278 )
        No, it carried three in that big permanently-attached pod under its belly, in addition to a couple on pylons under the wings.
        • According to its wikipedia article:

          The B-58 typically carried a single nuclear weapon in a streamlined MB-1C pod under the fuselage. From 1961 to 1963 it was retrofitted with two tandem stub pylons under each wing, inboard of the engine pod, for B43 or B61 nuclear weapons for a total of five nuclear weapons per airplane

          No mention of an internal bomb bay. I don't think that the pod was permanently attached either. IIRC, I've seen pictures of the plane without any external attachments.

          • by phayes ( 202222 )
            The MB-1C pod was also the B-58's primary fuel tank.

            The mission scenario would have been for the B-58 to use the fuel in the pylon on it's way to the target, drop the pod & it's integrated nuclear weapon onsite, then use internal tanks to return to base.

            As the B-58's range was severely impacted without the MB-1C's fuel tank & stocks of these expensive pods were limited, they were not expended unnecessarily.
  • The tagging beta includes the word sopwith [], a reference to "Sopwith Camel", a game I used to place on an 8086 box as a kid :). Your goal was to drop bombs on ground targets in a simplistic side-scroller sort of map. You can install a modern-day Linux version (pretty close to the original) by doing "sudo apt-get install sopwith" on Debian-based distros.

    Maybe not as much fun as dropping real bombs out of a supersonic jet, but pretty darn close :).

  • That seems like a very low priority in comparison to developing better armor and medical supplies for the guys on the ground.

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