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Surprising Science

Update: Hypersonic Aircraft Crashes During Test Flight

There very well may come a day when the norm of air travel for the general public is to fly at mach 6, making us truly citizens of the world. 

We were working the phones yesterday to try to find out the status of the U.S. Navy’s test flight of the X-51A Waverider, an aircraft that engineers designed to travel at 4,500 miles per hour. As we noted, that’s five times the speed of sound, and about 117 times the speed of Usain Bolt in full sprint! Moving this fast, one could go from New York City to London in about one hour. 

Spokespeople at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base were suspiciously mum, and now it turns out that was for a good reason: the unmanned craft broke apart and crashed into the Pacific mere seconds after its rocket booster started. A “faulty control fin,” was the cause of the failure, according to a statement recently released.

It’s disappointing, as this hypersonic jet is a promising innovation. 

How does it work? The aircraft is equipped with a revolutionary scramjet engine. The engine rapidly pulls in the oxygen needed to burn the fuel it uses from the atmosphere. This animation, courtesy of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, shows everything:

Read more at Pratt & Whitney


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