A Boeing experimental plane has broken the record for the longest hypersonic flight over the Pacific
The unmanned Boeing X-51A Waverider flew over the Pacific Ocean for three and a half minutes at the hypersonic speed of Mach 5.1, or five times the speed of sound.
It was a so-called scramjet aircraft, an airplane with a jet engine specifically designed for speeds of Mach 5 (about 6,000 kilometers per hour) and higher. The total flight took just over six minutes, Reuters news agency reports .
The unmanned aerial vehicle was launched by a B52 bomber over Point Mugu National Park on the coast of California, at 15,000 meters.
The scramjet accelerated to a speed of Mach 4.8 within 26 seconds and reached a top speed of Mach 5.1 at more than 18,000 meters. When the plane had used all its fuel, it plunged into the sea as planned.
Boeing has been experimenting with scramjet aircraft for some time. The company expects the jet engines to soon be used for practical applications, such as launching satellites.
Scramjets are in theory cheaper than rockets because the engines use oxygen from the atmosphere to ignite the fuel. Due to the high speed, the oxygen is compressed by itself. As a result, fewer moving parts are required.
Before this technique works, however, a scramjet must first reach a great height and a high speed. That is why the aircraft are launched by another aircraft.