The Pentagon knows that, sometimes, time really is of the essence. That’s why they are throwing their weight behind a new aircraft — one capable of traveling five times the speed of sound for minutes on end — scheduled for testing this week.
The X-51A WaveRider, an unmanned experimental aircraft being financed by both the US Department of Defense and NASA, will be tested over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday. If all goes as planned, a remote team of pilots will be able to send the space-age aircraft soaring through the sky at Mach 6 — or roughly 3,600 miles per hour—for just around five full minutes. The Los Angeles Times reports that such a speed for that amount of time would be twice as long as any other hypersonic aircraft has sustained before, though, and if all goes as planned the Pentagon might be able to soon usher supplies from coast-to-coast, all in under an hour.
“Attaining sustained hypersonic flight is like going from propeller-driven aircraft to jet aircraft,” Robert A. Mercier, deputy for technology in the high speed systems division at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio, tells the Times. “Since the Wright brothers, we have examined how to make aircraft better and faster. Hypersonic flight is one of those areas that is a potential frontier for aeronautics. I believe we’re standing in the door waiting to go into that arena.”