The Pentagon plans on using the successful 2013 test of its X-51 Waverider hypersonic scramjet to build a more traditional aircraft that can operate at the same speed.
The U.S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are working together with the mission of making such an aircraft by 2023.
“X-51 was really a proof of concept test. It showed that you could get a scram jet engine, launch it off an aircraftm and it could go hypersonic. It was able to go more than Mach 5 until it ran out of fuel. It was a very successful test of an airborne hypersonic weapons system,” Air Force Chief Scientist Mica Endsley told Military.com on Monday.
The X-51 traveled at Mach 5 and collected data on its flight, but the Pentagon now wants an aircraft that could actually transport equipment. The X-51 crashed into the Pacific Ocean when its fuel ran out.
“What they are trying to do now is build the whole system so that it is not just about the engine. You have to have materials that can operate at the kind of temperatures you have when you are going at hypersonic speeds. You have to have guidance systems that will function when you are going at those types of speeds. There are a bunch of technological challenges that have to be addressed to make a functioning system that will work,” the scientist said, Military.com reported.
To give readers an idea of X-51’s speed, the Air Force scientist said that a typical five-hour trip from New York to Los Angeles, California, would only take 30 minutes.