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An aircraft that can bolt from London to New York in one hour is being prepared for its fledgling flight.
There's some exciting, new experimental modes of transport currently being developed -- and the latest plane developed by the United States military is certainly no exception.
The aircraft, currently being prepared for its test flight this week at Edwards Air Force Base in southern California, is dubbed the X-51A WaveRider or "Scramjet", The Daily Mail reports. If its flight is successful, it can be written up in the history books as the fastest ever created, managing speeds of over 4,500 miles per hour in the air.
The key is in the revolutionary engine. Dubbed "Scramjets", the engines only carry hydrogen instead of both fuel and oxygen. When necessary, oxygen is instead pulled from the atmosphere. The force of the air in front of the engine and merging of hydrogen cause gas compression, which raises the temperature of the engine and causes ignition.
In turn, this results in vast amounts of thrust -- and a speed which would leave the Concord's limitation of 1,350mph crawling in the dust.
The Scramjet will be attached to a B-52 bomber's wing before being deployed approximately 50,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean. It will free-fall for four seconds before its custom booster rocket engine ignites, propelling the aircraft to around Mach 4.5 after just 30 seconds, according to military officials.
After 30 seconds, the aircraft is expected to accelerate beyond Mach 6 -- reaching 4,500 mph -- and climb to 70,000 feet.
Flown for 300 seconds in total, the prototype will be allowed to break up after deacceleration and hitting the Pacific, with no plans for recovery.
The speed of the aircraft is made possible through riding its own shockwave by using the Scramjet engine, pushing it to hypersonic speeds. Robert Mercier, deputy for technology in the high speed systems division at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio said:
"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."
The WaveRider program cost an estimated $140 million, and is funded by both NASA and the Pentagon. The government hopes that if the trial flight is successful, the technology may one day be used for military stealth aircraft.
It may be a long road away from a test flight between the airports in London and New York, but if the trial proves successful, it may become closer to reality. We're unlikely to see these speeds for commercial carriers in our lifetime, but one can always dream.
However, it's not just the U.S. military getting in on the game of high-speed transport. One day soon, it may not be an impossibility that trains traveling through vacuum tunnels could send passengers from London to New York within an hour, hitting the same speeds.
If it saves me the experience of sitting next to a screaming child, snoring individuals and cramping legs for eight hours, I'm game for either.
Image credit: U.S. Air Force
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Aug 13, 2012
The third X-51 test flight took place on 14 August 2012. The X-51 was to make a 300 second, or 5 minute, experimental flight at speeds of five times the speed of sound, more than 3,600 mph. After separating from its rocket booster, the craft lost control and crashed into the Pacific. A statement by the Air Force Research Laboratory indicates a failure of the tail control surface as the cause. There is now only 1 X-51 prototype remaining. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_X-51
The SR71 was designed under President Eisenhower and flew 18 months after concept was ordered. And I think it might be able to do New York to London in an hour.
Scramjet is an updated version of the ramjet, which is the first jet engine ever, and invented during WW2, used by Germans to propel their V-1 flying bombs from Holland to London England. The V-1 ramjet needed to be cataputed into the air to gain enough speed to provide compressed air to the combustion chamber. The scramjet uses a rocket to do the same job.
As mentioned by others, the acceleration and deceleration speeds with the power plant design would not be practical for routine passenger use. Scramjets had been looked at for a space plane that would take off as a normal plane and use scramjets to break out of orbit. That idea has been repeatedly proven to be too complex to be practical. The Spaceship 1 / White Knight project proved there are more cost effective alternatives. With all that said, I am not sure why they are still doing testing of scramjets. The only other application would be weapons delivery. Sjdelay may have hit on its purpose with the question: Plane or a Cruise Missle? In 2010 a prototype hypersonic rocket built around a scramjet, visibly similar to the X-51, was successfully tested. It was essentially a very fast cruise missile tested as a possible replacement to conventional ballistic missiles.
This story is another good example of magical thinking. When we still haven't figured out what to do after cheap fossil fuels, or what to do with nuke waste, what makes us think that we can conquer time and space? How about figuring out how to move volumes of people around post-Peak oil? And further, why is it even necessary to get from NY to London so fast?
The travel agent told me that my cruise from New York to Iceland, Greenland, the Norwegian fiords, and Stockholm would be paired with a 1 hour flight from Stockholm back to a spot over NYC, at which time the plane would disintegrate. What part of this sounds dodgy??
Why make a $$$ plane when you can make a missle, or drone? Bomber launch eliminates much of the boost phase detected by sattelites. Personally, I think the only news we hear is old news. I wouldn't be surprised if this was done 10 years ago, but is just now being made public.
First off, this is the second flight of the Waverider, the first one only partially successful and flying roughly 3 minutes at speed before developing problems and losing thrust. Secondly, at hypersonic speeds, stealth is totally unnecessary as any tactical radar would detect it far too late to respond and even strategic radars would have difficulty detecting a shape meant for such speeds. External stealth technologies could create too much drag that would destroy such a ship in flight. I have no trouble with the idea of hypersonic flight, only with the idea that it even needs expensive stealth technologies.
Ms. Osborne wrote: "One day soon, it may not be an impossibility that trains traveling through vacuum tunnels...." Sorry to tell you but the "Great Bird of the Galaxy" Gene Roddenberry used that tech in one of his "post-Star Trek" movies. He wrote a story that was made into a movie in 1973 called "Genesis II" where they had "sub-shuttles" that ran in straight lines through the Earth's crust. The only apparent difference was that, if these tunnels were vacuums, it didn't show that. They had "open air" platforms, similar to a subway platform. As for this scramjet being allowed to disintegrate, considering that it had to be carried aloft to 50,000 feet under a B-52, it probably had no landing gear to save weight. Less weight means faster acceleration, higher altitude, and greater speed. At the lower speeds after the test, this craft may not have sufficient control surfaces to safely land the craft. The only bad thing about that is being unable to recover any of the surface materials to examine them for the effects of the high speed air on them.
Is anyone else bothered by... "... the prototype will be allowed to break up after deacceleration and hitting the Pacific, with no plans for recovery." (never mind the obvious grammatical error!) They can design a 21st century prototype aircraft engine and don't know how to incorporate one of the oldest inventions known to man - the wheel? Sounds like government waste, if you ask me,
Had to look it up to confirm my memory. I thought it was 2 hours. It was 1 hour, 54 minutes, 56.4 seconds. Remarkably that includes slowing down once to refuel from a modified KC-135 tanker. http://www.wvi.com/~sr71webmaster/srspee~1.htm
The V-1 was a pulse jet, it had shutters that closed the air intake when it fired and produced a pulse of thrust. The catapult was just because it didn't produce enough thrust to take off unassisted. Ram jets are old, though - invented in 1913.
It would be irresponsible to assume that any 1 technology is the only practical 1 for space launch without investigating alternatives. A scramjet powered aircraft, whether manned or unmanned, will almost certainly use liquid fuel, although that's not limited to the hydrogen that is used in the X-51A. A scramjet powered cruise missile might use either liquid or solid fuel. Either way, a new tech cruise missile project would be more likely to be by DARPA than by NASA.
Not sure what G suits are, but good luck finding passengers willing and able to tolerate the acceleration/deceleration G forces in these regular NYC - London flights.
The response of a variety of "skin" materials at these speeds have already been tested in real word situations. Rocket-powered missiles that fly this fast have been around for years & there's the Shuttle. The new tech that's being tested is the scramjet engine. If it works, they'll eventually decide whether or not the same engine will be used for subsonic flight & supersonic flight. If so, it will convert from a turbojet to a ramjet while in flight at well over Mach 1. If not, an aircraft would need separate engines for different speeds.
This is just an engine testbed. It is cheaper to build this as a disposable unit than adding time, weight & ultimately cost to make it recoverable. It either works or it doesn't, and then they build a new, modified one from scratch.
would it take to add navagation and landing capabilities to a largest firework ever made? Besides the cost of the unit is not $140 million, 99% of that is in the R and D and deployment.
The last test flight ended in embarrassment. This statement is designed to cover them in case another failure happens. They will say they decided to build a self destruct into it instead of crashing it. http://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/ain-defense-perspective/2011-07-01/scramjet-stalls-x-plane-crashes-second-flight
The problem is not that they couldn't figure out how to land but, from what I think, the reason they didn't land it and let it get destroyed is the huge amounts of forces that the plane's body would experience during both the acceleration and deceleration. Those would heavily damage the body and, of course, we have got ways of making bodies hold that much pressure (in the case of space shuttles) but, perhaps, because this is a prototype, they didn't want to spend too much on it and just want to test how the engine itself would work.