France conducts first test firing of V-MAX hypersonic glider demonstrator

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The Direction générale de l’armement (DGA), the French procurement and technology agency carried out the inaugural test firing of a sounding rocket carrying the V-MAX hypersonic glider demonstrator on June 26, 2023.  

“Equipped with many on-board technological innovations, this flight test was an unprecedented technical challenge that prepares the future of our national hypervelocity roadmap,” the DGA commented the day after the test. “France is one of the only countries in the world to have credible expertise in this field.” 

Hypersonic gliders use a boost-glide launch system: first, a rocket propels the weapon into space before the payload glides back into the atmosphere to its target at hypersonic speed. The non-ballistic nature of their maneuvers during atmospheric reentry makes their trajectory unpredictable. In 2019, France contracted the aerospace company ArianeGroup to manage the VMAX (Véhicule Manoeuvrant Expérimental – Experimental Maneuvering Vehicle) program, aimed at developing a demonstrator of this technology.

On the evening of June 26, 2023, numerous eyewitnesses from southwest France and northern Spain reported sighting an aircraft streaking across the night sky. 

This object, soaring at a high altitude and speed, left behind a distinct white trail. Residents near Biscarrosse, western France, were among the first to witness the flight shortly after 10 p.m. local time. Onlookers then shared pictures in Bordeaux, Toulouse, and even in neighboring Spain. 

Between June 26 and 30, 2023, a restricted maritime area was created, spanning 2,000 kilometers (about 1,080 nautical miles) west of the DGA missile testing site in Biscarrosse, into the Bay of Biscay and the Celtic Sea. These zones were restricted due to “missile operations.”  

UPDATE 27-06-2023, 15:29 (UTC +3): The confirmation from the DGA was added to the article. 

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