I’m perusing a story on CNN about a vehicle that can fly at Mach 6, or more than 4,500 miles/hr. While that seems like a crazy speed, my response is, what took so long?
I think about that almost every time I board a plane these days. It took the same six or so hours to fly across the US 20 years ago that it does now. I know that the cockpits have changed significantly, and other improvements have been made, but flight times haven’t budged. And yes, I’m aware of the whole Concorde thing, and it’s really a shame that the program had to be cancelled.
Back to the story on CNN. Does it mean that we’re actually going to see faster commercial airplanes? Not likely, or at least not anytime soon. The Pentagon’s X-51A Waverider hypersonic flight test vehicle is just that -- a test vehicle.
Later today, the 25-foot-long vehicle will be dropped off of the wing of a converted B-52 bomber off the California coast. It will attempt to fly for five minutes at Mach 6. Remember, Orville and Wilbur’s first flight only last a few seconds. According to the story, “The technology could eventually bring missiles or airplanes to the other side of the planet in minutes instead of hours.”
If successful, the test plane will simply fade into the Pacific Ocean and not be recovered. The Air Force claims that it’s prohibitively expensive to try to recover the planes. The cost of the program was not disclosed.