Los Angeles - An experimental US plane has broken the record for hypersonic flight, hitting a top speed of Mach 5.1 during a flight that lasted more than six minutes, an Air Force official said Friday.
The unmanned X-51A Wave rider took off Wednesday from Edwards Air Force Base and traveled 230 nautical miles (426 kilometres) in what was the longest air-breathing hypersonic flight ever.
After exhausting its 240-second fuel supply, the vehicle continued to send back telemetry data until it splashed down into the ocean and was destroyed as designed. All told, 370 seconds of data was collected from the experiment.
"It was a full mission success," Charlie Brink, X-51A programme manager for the Air Force Research Laboratory Aerospace Systems Directorate said in a statement. "I believe all we have learned from the X-51A Waverider will serve as the bedrock for future hypersonics research and ultimately the practical application of hypersonic flight."
The flight was the last of four test flights of the 300-million-dollarresearch programme to prove the viability of air-breathing, high-speed scramjet propulsion.
Scramjets differ from other jets primarily by using hydrocarbon fuel in its supersonic combustion ramjet, or Scramjet, engine. Other vehicles have achieved hypersonic flight - generally defined as speeds above Mach 5 - with the use of hydrogen fuel.
With no moving parts, hydrocarbon fuel is injected into the scramjet's combustion chamber, where it mixes with the air rushing through the chamber and is ignited in a process likened to lighting a match in a hurricane.//DPA