Test of hypersonic aircraft fails over Pacific Ocean


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A test flight of an experimental aircraft capable of speeding through air at 20 times the speed of sound ended prematurely Thursday morning when the arrowhead-shaped plane failed and stopped sending back real-time data to engineers and scientists who were moderating the mission.

In the test flight, the aircraft, known as the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, was launched at 7:45 a.m. from Vandenberg Air Force Base, located northwest of Santa Barbara, into the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere aboard an eight-story Minotaur IV rocket, made by Orbital Sciences Corp.


After reaching an undisclosed sub-orbital altitude, the aircraft jettisoned from its protective cover atop the rocket, then nose-dived back toward Earth, leveled out and was supposed to glide above the Pacific at 20 times the speed of sound, or Mach 20.

The plan was for the Falcon to speed westward for 30 minutes before plunging into the ocean near Kwajalein Atoll, about 4,000 miles from Vandenberg.

But about 20 minutes into the mission, the Pentagon’s research arm, known as Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, announced on its Twitter account that: “Range assets have lost telemetry.”

It sounds eerily similar to the problems that plagued the Falcon’s first flight, which took place in April 2010. That test flight ended prematurely with only nine minutes of flight time. Engineers went back to the drawing board and were believed to have had things ironed out.

If you have visions of this thing headed back to your house, DARPA sent out another tweet with the reassurance that the Falcon ‘has an autonomous flight termination capability,’ which likely means it ditched itself into the Pacific.

A more in-depth story is posted here.



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-- W.J. Hennigan