The intense thermal flux at the leading edges of hypersonic vehicles (traveling at Mach 5 and greater) requires creative thermal management strategies to prevent damage to leading edge components. Carbon fiber composites and/or ablative coatings have been widely utilized to mitigate the effects of the impinging heat flux. This paper focuses on an alternative, metallic leading edge heat pipe concept which combines efficient structural load support and thermal management. The passive concept is based on high thermal conductance heat pipes which redistribute the high heat flux at the leading edge stagnation point through the evaporation, vapor flow, and condensation of a working fluid to a location far from the heat source. Structural efficiency is provided by a sandwich construction using an open-cell core that also allows for vapor flow. A low temperature proof-of-concept copper–water system has been investigated by experimentation. Measuring of the axial temperature profile indicates effective spreading of thermal energy, a lowering of the maximum temperature and reduced overall thermal gradient compared to a non-heat pipe leading edge. A simple transient analytical model based on lumped thermal capacitance theory is compared with the experimental results. The low-temperature prototype shows potential for higher temperature metallic leading edges that can withstand the hypersonic thermo-mechanical environment.

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