Hypersonic Glider Loses Contact with US Military as Speed Test Takes Place [UPDATE: Statement Released]

Aug 11, 2011

In a bid to become the fastest plane in the world, the US Military has at least temporarily lost contact with prototype Falcon Hypsersonic Technology Vehicle (HTV-2) during its second test flight. This plane was designed as a global bombing prototype and was capable of a magnificent 20 times the speed of sound. This unmanned prototype plane was launched successfully today aboard a Minotaur IV rocket but was lost as the plane separated from the rocket in the upper bit of the atmosphere and began it's "glide" phase. All of this is according to DARPA - Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the USA.

We wrote about this impressive tip of arrow looking glider yesterday and expressed excitement over its second launch. The first time this project was tested, the ship crashed into the ocean and could not be recovered. As this launch had the possibility of being the final test of the plane because of the budget crunch hitting the Pentagon, those hoping for the success of this piece of technology are likely digging their fingernails into their kneecaps at the moment.

Falcon HTV-2 Flight Test Overview

If the project can be salvaged at this point, and if the project is able to move forward, the HTV-X, or whatever it's called at the time, will aim at reaching anywhere in the world in less than an hour to deliver bombs to targets specified by the US Military. Furthermore, if the plane were to, theoretically, need to travel from Los Angeles to New York to hit a target, it could do so in less than 12 minutes.

Analysts are apparently saying that this method of destroying targets is far superior to launching ballistic missiles as at the moment missiles still travel predictable paths while a hypersonic vehicle like the HTV-2 can manuver in many ways. Analysts also note that this plane would not be mistaken for a nuclear missile, thus supposedly avoiding the possibility of triggering a nuclear confrontation.

Falcon HTV-2 Flight Test Overview 2

The HTV-2 was launched for a test-run today a hypersonic vehicle launched by the military has "a long way to go" before deployment, so says Loren Thompson, analyst at the Lexington Institute with links to the defense industry. The launch today had the HTV-2 separate from its carrier rocket, perform some maneuvers, then contact was list. The test flight plan called for the HTV-2 Falcon to roll and dive into the Pacific Ocean, and by the sounds of it, at least the last part of the plan will take place one way or another.

UPDATE: DARPA has released a statement on today's launch:

“Here’s what we know,” said Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz, DARPA HTV-2 program manager and PhD in aerospace engineering. “We know how to boost the aircraft to near space. We know how to insert the aircraft into atmospheric hypersonic flight. We do not yet know how to achieve the desired control during the aerodynamic phase of flight. It’s vexing; I’m confident there is a solution. We have to find it.”

“Prior to flight, the technical team completed the most sophisticated simulations and extensive wind tunnel tests possible. But these ground tests have not yielded the necessary knowledge. Filling the gaps in our understanding of hypersonic flight in this demanding regime requires that we be willing to fly,” said DARPA Director Regina Dugan. “In the April 2010 test, we obtained four times the amount of data previously available at these speeds. Today more than 20 air, land, sea and space data collection systems were operational. We’ll learn. We’ll try again. That’s what it takes.”

[via AFP]

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