US hypersonic jet fails latest test flight
Hopes for the future of high-speed travel were shaken yesterday as the US Air Force’s hypersonic jet broke apart just 31 seconds into its five-minute test flight.
The significance of the WaveRider jet has been likened to the transition from propeller planes to jet aircraft. It is designed to travel at six times the speed of sound, and would cut flight times from London to New York down to an hour. Though commercial flights have been emphasised, hypersonic technologies are also being tested by the Pentagon for the development of missiles.
The unmanned X-51A tester was dropped from a plane and then powered by a rocket booster, before its scramjet engine was due to engage. However, on separation from the booster, the aircraft suffered a reported “faulty control fin”, the engine failed to ignite and it fell apart north-west of Los Angeles.
“It is unfortunate that a problem with this subsystem caused a termination before we could light the scramjet engine,” Charlie Brink, the X-51A program manager for Air Force Research Laboratory said in a statement. “All our data showed we had created the right conditions for engine ignition and we were very hopeful to meet our test objectives.”
This was the US Air Force’s third failed test flight, leaving them with only one remaining test vehicle. Their statement said that they plan to evaluate the cause of this latest failure before making a decision about their last jet.