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Not-so secret military test tomorrow over California

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 13th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Tomorrow the US military in partnership with NASA, will fly the X51A hypersonic  craft known as the Waverider. Waverider is expected to reach speeds of up to Mach 6 over the Pacific Ocean and could revolutionize air travel and weaponry.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Prepared at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, the Waverider will enjoy a short flight across the mountains of Southern California, on its way out to sea. Once past Point Magu, the prototype Waverider will be dropped by a B-52 bomber on its first and final flight. 

The aircraft will be propelled to hypersonic speed by a rocket that will force its scramjet to work. A scramjet is similar to a traditional jet engine, but instead of using aviation fuel, it uses hydrogen. The hydrogen is mixed with oxygen taken from the air and rapidly compressed to the point of ignition in the scramjet. The result is tremendous thrust, like that of a rocket. It's the extreme speed of the craft that makes the scramjet work, hence the need for an initial rocket boost. 

It is hoped the craft will fly for about 300 seconds, providing scientists with a constant, real-time stream of data. And the end of its flight, the Waverider will coast until it impacts the water where it will break into pieces. It will not be recovered. 

Hypersonic technology is expected to revolutionize flight much the same way jets revolutionized aviation starting in 1939. The first jet flew in 1939 and by the 1950's, travel by jet became mainstream. 

Hypersonic flight may take a little longer, but if it becomes reliable, experts predicts it can change air travel forever. A hypersonic passenger plane could easily cross the United States, from New York to Los Angeles in less than one hour. 

But more likely, the short-term applications of the technology will be military. Although they're not discussing it today, one possible application would be to create a super-fast, very long range cruise missile that could strike targets anywhere in the world with great speed. The missile could be launched from the US or a nearby installation and strike hard without ever leaving the atmosphere-or, more importantly, appearing on radar. 

Previous X51 tests have been staged in the past several years with mixed results. Technical failures have caused the loss of the craft after short periods of time. This time, it is hoped those issues have been resolved and this prototype has a successful flight. If it does, the military will be one step closer to a new wonder weapon, and the rest of us, a little closer to the world. 

 

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