Tests are being carried out on an unmanned aircraft that flies at 20 times the speed of sound this week and if they are successful, could change the way we travel. The Falcon HTV-2 will be launched on the back of a rocket, into space and then will glide back down to Earth at speeds of around 13,000mph. This is all part of a research programme by DARPA in an effort to make long duration hypersonic travel a reality. It could also change the way weapons are made but hopes are that it is primarily used for sub orbital space travel, making long distance flights taking 24 hours a thing of the past.
The Falcon HTV-2 was previously tested before but had to be crash landed due to faults that at present have not been identified yet. The test flight only managed to last nine minutes but it is thought that the aircraft got too hot. This test flight will take place at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, hitching a ride on an Air Force Minotaur IV rocket, which is a decommissioned ballistic missile. Once launched the Falcon will then detach from the rocket and return to land at colossal speeds. It is estimated that it would take less than 12 minutes to fly from New York to Los Angeles aboard such an aircraft, a journey which would normally take more than five hours on an aeroplane.
The Pentagon and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are developing this programme as part of a new generation of hypersonic weapons that have a faster speed than missiles. But the technology has implications in air travel as well. The director at DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, Dave Neyland says, “DARPA looks forward to conquering more unknowns about long-duration hypersonic missions. We need to increase our technical knowledge to support future hypersonic technology development. We gained valuable data from the first flight, made some adjustments based on the findings of an engineering review board to improve this second flight, and now we’re ready to put all of that to the test.”
So does this mean that in the future we could travel from London to Sydney in just under an hour? We may seem a long way off that yet but let’s hope that this new technology is used for something useful and not for destruction.