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Scientist and researchers have been putting significant effort into future aircraft capable traveling at hypersonic speeds. One such aircraft that's been testing is the X-51A WaveRider, which is designed to fly at 3,600 mph. At that speed, a passenger aircraft would be able to travel from Los Angeles to New York in only 46 minutes.
 
Engineers at Edwards Air Force Base in California were putting the finishing touches on the WaveRider yesterday and the test flight is expected to be conducted over the Pacific today. The aircraft will be attached to the bottom of a B-52 bomber's wing. The WaveRider will be carried to an altitude of 50,000 feet over the Pacific near Point Mugu. The aircraft will then drop from the wing and begin its high-speed test flight.
 
The X-51A WaveRider will reach Mach 6 and will attempt to maintain that speed for 5 minutes. Engineers on the project say that this test flight is important for all types of aviation including military and commercial. The technology could also be adapted to superfast missiles and spacecraft.
 
"Attaining sustained hypersonic flight is like going from propeller-driven aircraft to jet aircraft," said Robert Mercier, deputy for technology in the high-speed systems division at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio.
 
"Since the Wright brothers, we have examined how to make aircraft better and faster. Hypersonic flight is one of those areas that is a potential frontier for aeronautics. I believe we're standing in the door waiting to go into that arena."
 
NASA and the Pentagon are currently financing three different centers around the country to study hypersonic flight. The programs are being administered by DARPA, and the agency calls hypersonic flight "the new stealth." The Pentagon believes that the best way to hit targets around the globe in an hour or less is with a hypersonic missile.

WaveRider had a successful maiden test flight in May 2010 when it was able to travel 3,500 mph for 143 seconds before crashing into the ocean as planned. However, DARPA has had significant issues with its even faster hypersonic aircraft, the Mach 20 HTV-2.

Source: Seattle Times





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