Video // Andrew Arthur Breese

On Oct. 14, 1947, then-Capt. Chuck Yeager flew the Bell X-1 rocket plane at Mach 1 and broke the sound barrier. Since then, the Air Force has continually stretched and pushed the limits of speed – finding new ways to make its aircraft fly faster and farther.

However, the U.S. is not alone in this quest for speed. China and Russia are already flight-testing hypersonic weapons and several other countries have shown interest in pursuing technologies for hypersonic flight.

Hypersonic refers to flying at five times the speed of sound, also known as Mach 5 or higher. From an Air Force perspective, it is a game-changing capability, which can amplify many of the enduring attributes of airpower, including speed, range, flexibility and precision.

Still, while beneficial to the U.S., speed is also one of the greatest threats the nation faces.

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poster depicting the future of fusion
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Graphic // Corey Parrish

“My biggest fear is that the country’s lost the ability to stay ahead, and we’re moving slowly now, very deliberately, where we have adversaries that are moving unbelievably fast,” said Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command. “Twenty years from now, if we’re not careful, somebody could catch up to us. I believe we can never let that happen, so we have to stay ahead of technology.”

Helping the Air Force stay continually one step ahead for the past 60 years is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA.

DARPA’s mission as the central research and development agency for the Department of Defense is to make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security and to prevent strategic surprise. Together with the Air Force Research Laboratory, a fusion of ideas is leading to newly highlighted innovations.

This video shows how DARPA and AFRL are working to push the boundaries of speed and make future technologies possible today.