A hypersonic airplane capable of speeds of 27,000 kilometers per hour and worth $300 million dollars is now missing in action somewhere in the Pacific ocean.
The folks who officially invented the Internet – better known as DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) – have officially lost a $300 million dollar plane called the Falcon HTV-2 on August 11th. Clocking in at speeds of 27,000 kilometers per hour, this unmanned aircraft was considered to be the world’s fastest HVC (Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle) only now, it is believed to be lying somewhere in the Pacific ocean after losing contact some 30 minutes or so into it’s flight.
The idea behind the small launch vehicle was to possibly produce an alternative to intercontinental ballistic missiles and give the U.S. military the ability to strike any target worldwide, within an hour or two, delivering a payload of hypersonic weapons on-board. Built of a special carbon composite body and coupled with sophisticated on-board navigational systems, the Falcon HTV-2 was supposed to provide engineers and military defense officials insights into aerodynamic performance and thermal protection capability. Considering that air travels past the aircraft at speeds of 6.4kms per second, temperatures can reach up to 2000 degrees Celsius around the exterior. This wasn’t the first attempt for the Falcon. In April last year, the original HTV-1 was set off screaming into the edges of space and it too met it’s demise only 9 minutes into flight. The on-board navigation or autopilot, self-terminated due to a technical glitch detected. Avoiding any disasters, it forced itself into a controlled roll and pitchover and dropped directly into the Pacific ocean.
In order to reach the unfathomable hypersonic Mach 6 speed noted, both the HTV 1 and 2 were an all-in-one aircraft in which they could take off on a runway using a turbine engine and reach an initial airspeed of Mach 3, only to then be further propelled into the sky using ramjet booster rockets that later disengage once the aircraft reaches the edge of space and then begins its return to earth. While travelling through the atmosphere, teams of engineers were banking on testing various manouvers and gathering critical data to further the program, only now the Falcon Project appears to have been shut down.
Spaceplane travel is nothing new for the U.S. and has been around since the 1957 when the first project called the x-20 Dyna-Soar was publicly acknowledged. Since then, several other projects have come along and it has been noted by one former Director under President Ronald Regan’s Star Wars program, that approximately $4 billion dollars had been spent on spaceplane research and development throughout 1970′s up until the 1990′s and that is not including the Space Shuttle program. All of which he noted, basically provided nothing in return except crashed vehicles and useless aircraft dubbed ‘hangar queens’ which are scrapped test planes stripped of their parts so other planes may fly.
That’s a lot of money spent on something that really isn’t a priority given the current economic situation in the U.S., but if history has a way of repeating itself, I am sure there will be another program in the works. Just wait and see.
A short video below demonstrates the test flight profile.