Yesterday, the Air Force conducted a third test flight of its X-51a "Waverider" hypersonic cruise missile, hoping for 300 seconds worth of sustained scramjet-powered flight at over Mach 5. It could have gone worse, but not by much: a faulty control fin caused the vehicle to break apart and crash into the ocean just over 30 seconds after launch.
Ever since the last flight of the Concorde, the priorities for air travel have changed from going faster to going more efficiently. An EU-sponsored study called LAPCAT has been trying to shake things up with a hypersonic aircraft called the A2, which would take 300 passengers anywhere on Earth at over Mach 5.
Last week, DARPA carried out the second test of an unmanned hypersonic vehicle that can travel at Mach 20. The test ended when controllers prematurely lost contact with the vehicle, but data now shows that the vehicle flew stably for three minutes, and then made a controlled descent into the ocean. In other words, it worked. Mostly.
It seems inconceivable that an aircraft that can travel from New York to Los Angeles in 12 minutes — less time than it takes to wake up, whip together a proper breakfast and soak in the world news exists. But it does and DARPA's planning to test the unmanned Falcon HTV-2 aircraft today!
Capable of soaring above the atmosphere at 3,125 mph on biofuel made from seaweed, EADS's proposed Zero Emission Hypersonic Transportation (ZEHST) could significantly reduce air travel time. The usual eight-hour flight from New York to London would take one, less than half the time it took the old Concorde.
Last May, the X-51A Waverider fired up a scramjet engine and boosted itself to a hypersonic Mach 5. The Air Force was hoping for Mach 6, and, next week, the military will unleash this beast for another flight.
In 2007, DARPA committed to funding the development of a prototype unmanned aircraft called "Blackswift" that would be able to take off from a runway unassisted and be anywhere in the world within a few hours. The program was canceled just a year later, but now, it's back.
NASA wants to skip the rockets and develop a hypersonic space plane that can take off from a runway here on Earth and fly straight to Mars....
Jet engines that might make it possible for passenger planes to someday travel at 10,000 mph will soon take to the air. Hypersonic scramjets have been in the works for years, but the Boeing X-51A demonstrator will contain the first...