The high surface heating that occurs with hypersonic flight will introduce tremendous thermal gradients, with an estimated hundred-fold decrease in surface temperatures a short distance downstream of leading edges. Such thermal gradients will introduce significant thermal stresses that are further exacerbated by present high-temperature materials.

Structural designs need to account for stress levels produced by dissimilar materials with different degrees of thermal expansion, aerodynamic and propulsion loads, and structural vibration. The Hypersonic Systems Initiative's Structural Design Focus Group employs computer-aided design (CAD) and structural analysis software in the Engineering Design Core Facility (EDCF). The EDCF is instrumental in the design of hypersonic wind tunnels and hypersonic test articles at Notre Dame.