X-51A Waverider

The US military has conducted another test of its hypersonic jet Waverider, taking place above the Pacific Ocean in an attempt to reach Mach 6.

It follows a test that took place in June 2011, during which the Waverider reached Mach 5 but could not progress to the target speed, which equates to around 4,300mph.

Waverider is one of several projects aimed at creating hypersonic aircraft, with the Pentagon and Nasa hoping that the project will result in the development of faster missiles.

Waverider was flown to an altitude of 50,000ft strapped to the wing of a B-52 bomber aircraft, before being dropped. After a momentary free fall, the engine of the X-51A Waverider ignited, propelling the aircraft to an altitude of 70,000ft where it is hoped the aircraft would reach Mach 6.

The test was expected to last around five minutes before the aircraft ditched safely into the Pacific Ocean. Results of the test flight would be available later on 15 August 2012 according to a military spokesman.

It is hoped that similar technology could be used to create hypersonic commercial aircraft, capable of transporting passengers in vastly reduced travel times. The decommissioned Concorde aircraft cruised at Mach 2, whereas EADS has proposed a similar high-speed aircraft designed to fly at Mach 4.

At speeds of Mach 6, a flight from London, UK, to New York, US, would take an hour.

Image: Artist’s rendering of the X51 Wave Rider during its first hypersonic flight. Image courtesy of Boeing.