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NY to LA in 46 Minutes: US to Test X-51A WaveRider Hypersonic Plane

The US military is set to launch a key test of an experimental unmanned hypersonic plane that can reach speeds of 3,600 miles per hour, fast enough to fly from New York to Los Angeles in just 46 minutes.

NPR reports that the X-51A WaveRider, a collaborative effort of the US Air Force Research Laboratory, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne corporation, is set to be tested Tuesday over the Pacific Ocean in southern California.

The X-51A will accelerate to 3,600 mph (5,793 km/h) during the test flight if all goes according to plan, nearly three times as fast as Lockheed’s SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, the fastest aircraft powered by air-breathing engines. The new plane will attempt to maintain that incredible speed for five minutes.

The X-51A will be carried aloft by a B-52 bomber before being released from the plane’s wing. It will fire a rocket engine, which will detach once the experimental aircraft reaches a speed of about 3,000 mph. At that point, a ‘scramjet’ with no moving parts will take over, propelling the plane to a speed so great that it will ride its own wave as air sucked in at hypersonic speed combined with jet fuel creates even greater thrust.

“The first test flight brings aviation closer than ever to the reality of regular, sustained hypersonic flight,” a Pratt & Whitney statement read. “We are very proud to be part of the team that made this possible.”

Besides military uses, the X-51A team envisions exciting possibilities for commercial aviation. The Daily Mail foresees one-hour flights from New York to London. The plane could lead to breakthroughs in space travel as well.

But for now, all eyes will be on Tuesday’s test flight as this revolutionary hypersonic aircraft takes to the skies over southern California.

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