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Unmanned Hypersonic Aircraft Crashes in the Pacific

By Dawn Lim


WASHINGTON -- Due to a glitch, an unmanned experimental hypersonic military aircraft failed to fly at six times the speed of sound in a test flight, the Air Force said on Wednesday, Reuters reported (see GSN, Aug. 15).

The X-51A WaveRider was designed to reach Mach 6, or 3,600 miles per hour. The problem was identified 16 seconds after a rocket booster on the aircraft was ignited to ramp up its speed in a test flight Tuesday morning, the Air Force said. Fifteen seconds later, when the WaveRider separated from the rocket booster, it lost control due to a "faulty control fin," according to a statement.

The military had envisioned that the X-51A would fly for five minutes. Instead, the aircraft broke apart immediately and fell into the Pacific Ocean northwest of Los Angeles.

The military has its eye on using the hypersonic technology to develop high-speed cruise missiles. Defense has funded several projects currently underway to develop hypersonic aircraft, with varying success.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s attempt to demonstrate what would have been the fastest aircraft ever built -- the experimental Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 -- failed last year.

It is looking to spend $70 million to develop technology for hypersonic flight at Mach 20, or 20 times the speed of sound, contract documents show.

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