More Details Emerge On France’s V-MAX Hypersonic Glider Test


Credit: DGA

More details about France’s V-MAX hypersonic glider flight test have emerged after U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command revealed that it had provided the sounding rocket as a booster for the experimental maneuvering vehicle.

Detailing its involvement, the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center revealed on Dec.12 that the V-MAX glider, developed by ArianeGroup for France’s DGA defense materiel agency, had been launched on a Terrier-Oriole two-stage rocket system.

The launcher was provided to the French government as part of an ongoing collaboration between the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) and the French Armed Forces.

The V-MAX launch was the third sounding rocket mission from the French test site at Biscarrosse on the Bay of Biscay coast. An earlier launch had suffered a power system failure, although it is unclear whether it had a V-MAX payload onboard.

V-MAX was encased inside a nose cone shroud at the top of the rocket, with the shroud being one of several new innovations on the launcher. Others included new backup timers and a revised attitude control system.

Launched from Biscarrosse at 10 p.m. on June 26, the Terrier-Oriole propelled the V-MAX to an altitude higher than expected, NSWC said, but one that was still within the French requirements.

V-MAX was released at the rocket’s apogee and descended at hypersonic speeds.  

Aaron Cowman, branch manager for applied environments, integration and testing for the NSWC’s Port Hueneme Division, said that “all events, maneuvers and functions of the vehicle performed as expected. The French were very appreciative of everything we accomplished.”

U.S. companies involved in the effort included Corvid Technologies LLC, Kratos Defense and Rocket Support Services Inc., and Peraton Inc. The latter company built the nose cone to protect the V-MAX vehicle.

“The Terrier-Oriole-Oriole rocket motor configuration has proven to be viable in the growing number of our options for hypersonic research,” Cowman added.

French officials had been tight-lipped about the experiment after it was made public. They said only that the demonstrator “contained many onboard technological innovations” and undertook “a demanding long-range trajectory.”

In July, French lawmakers approved a second V-MAX test, dubbed V-MAX 2, which is planned for around 2025.  

“The V-MAX demonstrator will be followed by a higher-performance one, which will go farther in flight testing,” Adm. Charles-Henri du Che, ArianeGroup’s military advisor, said in a parliamentary hearing in May.

“Once we have those two demonstrators, we will be in a position to say France masters the technology,” du Che said.

It is unclear whether the partnership to use the Terrier-Oriole will continue to support future V-MAX flight tests. U.S. officials say the next phase in the partnership “will focus on boosting training for both French and American personnel.”

V-MAX project details originally emerged in 2019 in a speech by then-Defense Minister Florence Parly, who said France needed to join the growing number of nations exploring hypersonic flight. 

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.