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A look at one of the wind tunnels currently in use at UTSI. Photo by Sam Thomas/UT System.

With speeds in excess of five times the speed of sound, hypersonic flight holds promise as a way to improve a number of fields, national security among them.

The University of Tennessee Space Institute in Tullahoma has been at the forefront of hypersonic flight for several years, and it just got a major boost to ensure that it will continue to lead.

The US Department of Defense has chosen UTSI for a $500,000 12-month award to help increase the speed at which hypersonic-related technology is developed and implemented. UTSI was one of only eight institutions selected for the initiative.

“Hypersonics is a top modernization priority for DOD,” said Mark Lewis, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, in announcing the selections. “We are mobilizing government, industry, and academia to provide real capabilities to our warfighters. That begins at the basic research level as exemplified by these exciting university activities.”

Dr John Schmisseur (U.S. Air Force Photo by Michael J Pausic)
Dr John Schmisseur (U.S. Air Force Photo by Michael J. Pausic)

UTSI’s hypersonics efforts are largely led by Professor of Engineering and H. H. Arnold Chair John Schmisseur. His work in the US Air Force spanned 23 years, including his initial look at theoretical hypersonic flows in 1992.

This latest funding is the continuation of a string of Schmisseur’s successes since he joined UTSI six years ago, including two different US Air Force projects related to airflow generated by and materials used in hypersonic flight, and the development of the Tennessee Aerothermodynamics Laboratory, which has one of the largest wind tunnels in use in academia.

“Hypersonics is an area of research that is important to national security, yes, but it’s also important to our state,” said Schmisseur. “Aerospace- and defense-related work are the fourth biggest part of our state’s economy, so an investment in UTSI is also an investment in the state of Tennessee.”

Each of the eight universities selected will work on a different area related to hypersonic flight. UTSI’s role is the development of a core curriculum to help train a hypersonics-focused workforce, with materials appropriate for current professionals as well as future students.

The initiative is part of the DOD’s plan to create a university consortium for applied hypersonics, which it hopes to have fully functioning by fall 2021.



David Goddard (865-974-0683​,