Imagine being able to fly from New York to Los Angeles in under an hour.
If Boeing and the US Air Force succeed in getting its hypersonic aircraft to stay in flight for more than a few minutes, we will be one step closer to both commercial and military hypersonic flight.
On Tuesday, the unmanned X-51A WaveRider will take off from the Edwards Air Force base in Southern California's Mojave Desert. It will be attached to a B-52 bomber's wing, and once it is dropped from the wing, it is expected to fly at Mach 6, which is six times the speed of sound and over 3,600 miles per hour, as explained in the Air Force factsheet. The hypersonic speed is expected to last only 300 seconds, but that's twice as long as it's ever gone at that speed.
The WaveRider is not carrying weapons, but is designed to pave the way for hypersonic weapons. NASA and the Pentagon are financing hypersonic flight research in three national centers across the country, calling the technology "the new stealth" for its capability to outrun enemy fire, KTLA reports.
Hypersonic research advocates often point to when the US sent missiles from naval vessels in the Arabian Sea into training camps in Afghanistan in a 1998 attempt to kill Osama bin Laden, the Los Angeles Times reports. By the time the missiles landed, 80 minutes later, Bin Laden was gone. If the missile had gone at hypersonic speed, like the WaveRider, it would have landed in just over 12 minutes.
The Air Force conceived the X-51A program in 2004, and the service has spent $140 million on the Waverider system, according to military research site Globalsecurity.org. Over the last 10 years, the Pentagon said it spent as much as $2 billion on hypersonic technologies, according to the Times.
The nearly wingless cruiser is designed to ride its own shockwave, thus the nickname, Waverider, the Air Force site explains. Amazingly, the aircraft's engine has virtually no moving parts and is able to burn and run on oxygen instead of needing to carry large fuel tanks.
While in flight Tuesday, the WaveRider will transmit data to orbiting aircraft and ground stations. Then, once the fuel is exhausted, it will splash down into the Pacific and be destroyed, as planned in order to cut costs.
Peter Robbie, vice president of the European aerospace and defense corporation EADS, told BBC that EADS believes that hypersonic passenger planes may be available by about 2050. "The business community who wanted to be in New York in three hours made Concorde highly viable, and now there's interest on both sides of the Atlantic to jump a generation and go from supersonic flight to hypersonic flight," he said.
"Such an aircraft will be very expensive, of course, because of the enormous amounts of energy that is required to get to such speeds," Robbie added. "But the idea of going from Tokyo to Paris in two-and-a-half hours is very attractive for the business and political community."
7 Technologies the Military Made Possible
Tech from the 1930s
The technology behind walkie-talkies (formerly known as handheld transceivers) is present in cell phones, children's toys and tools for hobbies such as hunting. The concept was originally part of the Canadian military's communications system. The first version of this technology to actually be referred to as a Walkie-Talkie was created during World War II by Motorola (model SCR-300) and used by the U.S. Signal Corps.
Household microwaves have become a staple in kitchens throughout the country. It's strange to think that aircraft tracking radar from the mid-1930s is to thank. Originally invented by the Royal Air Force, aircraft tracking radar served as an instrument used in early warning systems. On top of just being used to pop popcorn, similar technology is still being utilized in air traffic control towers all over the world
Tech from the 1940s
Today's GPS are roughly based on technologies created in the 1940s. American military forces developed long range navigation, or LORAN, based on British radio navigation technologies. Upgrading to today's GPS technology meant moving from a land-based positioning system to a space-based positioning system. Today's GPS can also trace their origins to ballistic missiles created by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. These missiles made long-range attacks possible for the first time in the 1940s. Many historians have even tracked modern space exploration to these missiles.
Low Light Photography
This form of photography was made possible by the US military's night-vision technology. Invented in 1940s, night vision employed two goals common to photography: reaching sufficient spectral range and intensity range in order to "see" in low light conditions. Photographers of all skill levels frequently practice low light photography thanks to this technological advancement.
This gooey toy was originally supposed to be part of a research project during World War II. The Japanese government curbed rubber supplies to the United States, so the government commissioned a group of scientists to develop a substitute. The scientists hoped to created a rubber-like material that would be strong enough for automobile tires and other necessary products. One of the results was Silly Putty (1943). The substance wasn't strong enough for tires but made for a simple children's toy.
Tech from the 1960s
World Wide Web
During the Cold War the U.S. and the Soviet Union looked for ways to one-up each other beyond nuclear power. Researching how government and defense installations woulds stay in contact if cities and telecommunication networks were wiped out became part of the U.S. plan to gain dominance. This research led to networking experiments as early as 1962 run by the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency. Those experiments gave way to one of the most incredible technologies every created.
Film cameras have nearly phased out in the retail sphere, pushed out by the rise of digital photography. Whether the style of digital camera be an SLR or a smaller point-and-shoot the impact is overwhelming. What many people don't realize is that digital cameras, no matter the type, are all reminiscent of the U.S. and Soviet Union's satellite spy cameras used in the 1960s.