Summary:

The U.S. Air Force test of the X-51A WaveRider aircraft — which was supposed to achieve Mach 6 air speeds — failed. The technology, if it proves out, could power a new generation of super-fast missiles, and perhaps, eventually, commercial aircraft.

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That 46-minute cross country-flight so many people would love to see, may take a little bit longer than hoped.

key test to prove the viability of sustained hypersonic flight flamed out Thursday when an experimental X-51A WaveRider aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean less than 15 seconds into what was supposed to be a 5 minute flight.

The idea was for the craft to launch from the wing of a B-52 and fly for five minutes attaining Mach6 speed, before crashing. As it happened, the aircraft’s scramjet engine never even lit, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The U.S. Air Force would like to use hypersonic technology in a new generation of super-fast presumably hard-to-hit weapons. But longer term, there are hopes for commercial use. An airplane flying at Mach 6 — or six times the speed of sound — could make it from San Francisco to New York in less than an hour. The supersonic Concord jets — discontinued a decade ago — hit 2 Mach.

None of the three test Waverider flights over the past few years have ended well. The project is backed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, DARPA, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Boeing. There’s more on the failed flight here.

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user MultiplyLeadership

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