Can Hard Science Save The Aerospace Plane?

After years of hype, the national aerospace plane may finally be lumbering off the ground. Gone are the visionaries who spent years promoting proposals that have turned out to be little more than pipe dreams. Replacing them is a group of practical scientists and engineers. They admit that they are working on an experimental prototype that may never fly, much less carry passengers. Ironically, though, it’s just this kind of pragmatic talk that could bring the project the credibility it will

Ta Heppenheimer
Oct 16, 1988

After years of hype, the national aerospace plane may finally be lumbering off the ground. Gone are the visionaries who spent years promoting proposals that have turned out to be little more than pipe dreams. Replacing them is a group of practical scientists and engineers. They admit that they are working on an experimental prototype that may never fly, much less carry passengers. Ironically, though, it’s just this kind of pragmatic talk that could bring the project the credibility it will need if it is ever to launch its exotic bird.

The most obvious change is at the top. Last April, the Air Force took command of the project from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The move was scheduled to occur in 1990, but the date was moved up after the previous director was replaced for overstepping his authority by seeking direct presidential support for the program. As it...

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