X-51A WaveRider expected to fly at 3,600 mph in key test Tuesday

August 14, 2012

X-51A Waverider, artist concept (credit: U.S. Air Force)

The unmanned experimental aircraft X-51A WaveRider is expected to fly above the Pacific Ocean near Point Mugu at Mach 6 — at 3,600 mph — for 300 seconds Tuesday, Los Angeles Times reports.

A passenger aircraft traveling at that speed could fly from Los Angeles to New York in 46 minutes.

Aerospace engineers say that harnessing technology capable of sustaining hypersonic speeds is crucial to the next generation of missiles, military aircraft, spacecraft — and even passenger planes. The cruiser’s scramjet engine has virtually no moving parts.

The Pentagon believes that hypersonic missiles are the best way to hit a target in an hour or less. The only vehicle that the military currently has in its inventory with that kind of capability is the massive, nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.

Other means of hitting a distant target, such as cruise missiles and long-range bomber planes, can take hours to reach their destination.