Air Force craft to fly over a mile per second

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, August 13, 2012 10:37 EDT
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The X-51 Waverider. Photo: Courtesy, U.S. Air Force.
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The U.S. Air Force will test an experimental plane on Tuesday that’s capable of flying at hypersonic speeds of over one mile per second.

If Tuesday’s test is successful, it will mark the first time the craft has traveled at sustained speeds topping Mach 6, or roughly 3,600 miles per hour. Traveling at those speeds, one could cross the Pacific ocean from Los Angeles to Tokyo in about 90 minutes. Despite that tantalizing promise, the X-51A Waverider’s experimental engines are still years away from reaching consumer markets.

This isn’t the X-51A Waverider’s first flight, but it will be its longest. The Waverider first cracked hypersonic speeds in 2010, traveling at hypersonic speeds for just 200 seconds after being dropped by a B-52 bomber. Tuesday’s flight is expected to jump that burn up to 300 seconds before the craft breaks up and crashes into the ocean.

“We equate this leap in engine technology as equivalent to the post-World War II jump from propeller-driven aircraft to jet engines,” Air Force researcher Charlie Brink said after the craft’s last flight.

DARPA, the Pentagon’s experimental research arm that helped create the Internet, said last month that hypersonic flight is “the new stealth,” with the potential to provide unprecedented air superiority in future military missions. The agency unsuccessfully tested an unmanned hypersonic glider last year, but it broke up and crashed into the ocean after its metallic skin ripped apart at speeds eclipsing Mach 20.

Researchers said that test was still valuable thanks to the flight data, which helped them better understand the effects on aircraft in sustained flight near the speeds reached by space shuttles during atmospheric reentry.

This video of the Waverider’s 2010 test flight was published by the U.S. Air Force to YouTube on May 26, 2010.


Photo: Courtesy, U.S. Air Force.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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