Northrop Grumman has recently completed a wind tunnel test campaign to validate the design of the future LGM-35A Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Sentinel is being developed for the US Air Force (USAF) to replace the five-decades-old Minuteman III ICBM.  

The test series involved the use of scaled models of the vehicle, which were stressed under sub-to-hypersonic environments, to evaluate and determine the design maturity of the weapon system.

Northrop Grumman said that wind tunnel testing is one of the crucial early steps in a particular missile development project. It allows developers to understand how the vehicle will work during a flight.

This wind tunnel test campaign was created by a team of engineers and involved a total of seven comprehensive trials to analyse and measure how the weapon system would perform under different atmospheric conditions, speeds and loads.

Each test had its own separate set of requirements, with the eventual objective of simulating all the missile firing stages.

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According to Northrop Grumman, the tests mimicked the firing and separation stages, as well as other flight manoeuvres. 

Northrop Grumman Sentinel programme manager and vice-president Sarah Willoughby said: “Predictions from the modelling correlated with the testing results, giving us confidence in our model-based engineering approach.

“Data from these tests will inform future engineering decisions as we mature the design and continue on a path to deliver this critical capability to the USAF.”

Following the culmination of wind tunnel trials, the company is now working to update the models that can provide full-scale predictive conditions for the production of flight hardware of the Sentinel ICBM.

Willoughby added: “Tests were conducted at industry and government-run facilities across the US in under a year.”