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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

New York Post August 12, 2011

'Invisible' err-plane

By Bill Sanderson

Anyone seen our hypersonic test plane? Anyone?

Not even a bunch of rocket scientists could keep track of the fastest aircraft ever flown, which disappeared someplace over the Pacific Ocean yesterday while flying at an incredible 13,000 mph -- 20 times the speed of sound.

"We'll learn. We'll try again. That's what it takes," said Regina Dugan, head of the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The unmanned Falcon HTV-2, which has no engine, launched aboard a Minotaur IV rocket at 10:45 a.m. New York time yesterday from Vandenburg Air Force Base in California.

After hitting an altitude of several hundred thousand feet, the HTV-2 separated from the rocket and glided toward a point in the Pacific Ocean north of Kwajalein Atoll, in the Marshall Islands.

The glider was going so fast, its hull was expected to heat up to 3,500 degrees -- more than hot enough to melt steel. But inside the craft, protected by carbon- composite insulating material, sophisticated electronics radioed to controllers information about the flight.

For some reason, those transmissions lasted just nine minutes, DARPA said in a statement.

Even though the Falcon HTV- 2 lost contact with its controllers, "initial indications" were that the craft crashed in the Pacific "along the planned flight path," the statement said.

At least the government learned some things from the errant flight, DARPA officials said.

"We know how to boost the aircraft to near space. We know how to insert the aircraft into atmospheric hypersonic flight," said Air Force Maj. Chris Schultz, who was in charge of the flight of the Falcon HTV-2.

"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."

The plane was fast enough to fly from New York to Los Angeles in less than 12 minutes.

But don't get excited about a trip to the West Coast that's quicker than the airport security line. The Falcon HTV-2's main goal was to help the Defense Department someday build a plane that can bomb any place on the planet in under an hour.

Some analysts say that while the flight might seem a flop, it'll still provide DARPA with useful data.

"If they did not experience failures, it's because they're not trying very hard," said John Pike of Globalsecurity.org.

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