WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — The military is working on a jet plane that could hit speeds up to Mach Five, five times the speed of sound, reports Live Science.
By comparison a bullet only travels at twice the speed of sound.
The plane is part of the Pentagon’s X-51A program, which began in 2004. In 2013, the final test flight of the X-51A Waverider took place.
The unmanned jet was released from a modified B-52 bomber at an altitude of 50,000 feet. It reached a top speed of Mach 5.1 in just over six minutes before it was deliberately crashed into the Pacific Ocean.
The aircraft was powered by a Pratt & Whitney air-breathing supersonic combustion ramjet (or scramjet) engine.
The Air Force said the flight was the longest ever for a hypersonic vehicle of its kind.
“X-51 was really a proof of concept test. It showed that you could get a scram jet engine, launch it off an aircraft and it could go hypersonic,” Air Force chief scientist Mica Endsley told Military.com. “It was able to go more than Mach 5 until it ran out of fuel. It was a very successful test of an airborne hypersonic weapons system.”
The next generation of hypersonic aircraft will go even further, said Endsley, incorporating new materials that work well at such high speeds and a sophisticated guidance system to keep the plane on a proper heading.
The Air Force and DARPA, the Pentagon’s research branch, hope the hypersonic aircraft will take flight by 2023.
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