The Lookout

Military to test hypersonic jet that could zip across the U.S. in less than 1 hour

The Lookout

A superfast jet that could fly from L.A. to New York City in less than an hour may be one step closer to reality after a key test this week.

The  X-51A WaveRider, an unmanned aircraft that could reach speeds up to Mach 6 will be launched from the wing of a B-52 bomber high above the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The WaveRider is expected to zip up into the atmosphere and fly at hypersonic speeds—3,600 mph—for 300 seconds, before breaking up into the ocean.

If successful, if would be the longest jaunt for the test aircraft. The newspaper noted that the development of WaveRider could lead to progress on a passenger jet that could theoretically travel across the U.S. in 46 minutes.

"Attaining sustained hypersonic flight is like going from propeller-driven aircraft to jet aircraft," Robert A. Mercier, deputy for technology in the high speed systems division at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio told the L.A. Times.

But beyond passenger flights, achieving hypersonic speeds could also lead to the development of the next generation of missiles, space vehicles and military aircraft, the Times points out.

The WaveRider program had an issue in June of 2011 when the test vehicle in a similar test to the one planned for Tuesday failed to reach full power.

The Pentagon said it spent about $2 billion on technology and engineering around hypersonic flight over the last decade, the Times reports. This program is estimated to cost $140 million, according to Globalsecurity.org, a military policy research website.

If you're keeping score, the Concorde, a supersonic airliner, crossed the Atlantic at 1,350 mph.

It would take about 3.5 hours, about twice as fast as current commercial airlines. The Concorde was retired in 2003.

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