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