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Feel The Speed In These Incredible Photos From The Air Force’s Rocket Sled Track

At present, the HHSTT is 50,971 feet, or around 10 miles, long. However, its ability to conduct certain tests is limited by the fact that only a wide-gauge track runs the full length. A parallel set of narrow-gauge rails only run for around four miles of the track’s total length. The wide-gauge portion of the system is “mainly used for egress, dispense, and guidance testing,” according to the Air Force.

“Currently, recovered high-speed – those of Mach 3 or more – and rain erosion tests are limited to one of the 10-mile-long rails in a monorail configuration,” according to an official Air Force news item published earlier this month. “The monorail configuration limits the size of test articles to small, light test articles, or coupons, due to roll stability issues at high velocities.”

The 846th is currently looking into three different courses of action, details of which the Air Force has not yet released. However, each one is centered on the main goal of extending the narrow gauge rails to run the full 10-mile-length of the track. 

When actual work to modernize the HHSTT might begin, how much it might cost, and how the Air Force might pay for the upgrades are all uncertain. “The 846 TS [Test Squadron] is currently pursuing military construction funding, but there is a chance of receiving funding through other agencies, such as TRMC [the Pentagon’s Test Resource Management Center],” the Air Force’s official news story explained. “Because the 35 percent architecture and engineering, or A&E, design is not yet completed, a preferred COA [course of action] has not yet been chosen at this time. U.S. Air Force policy and Congress require the completion of a 35 percent A&E design before the project is funded to help avoid cost overruns due to inadequate planning.”

As already noted, the plethora of hypersonic aerospace projects that are publicly ongoing across the U.S. military, with many more almost certainly taking place in the classified realm, only underscores the importance of specialized high-speed test facilities like the HHSTT. “The Holloman High Speed Test Track is a truly unique national asset with a 70-plus year history that is worthy of preservation and modernization to continue its test and evaluation heraldry into the next century,” Lee Powell, the 846th’s Capability Development Element Chief, said an interview for the recent Air Force piece on the modernization plans.

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