How much time will you take to read this post. By the time you finish reading this, the Falcon HTV-2, the fastest plane ever built, could have flown 18 miles. It would reach Sydney from London in less than an hour, while withstanding temperatures of almost 2,000C, hotter than the melting point of steel.
The US Defence Advance Research Projects Agency(DARPA) built the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2. The plane was test launched on the back of a rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on August 11, 2011. The plan was to launch the Falcon HTV-2 to the edge of space, before detaching the plane and guiding it on a hypersonic flight that will reach speeds of 13,000mph (about 20 times the speed of sound) on its return to Earth.
The Falcon project started in 2003. DARPA’S plan called Prompt Global Strike, aimed to give military commanders the ability to strike targets anywhere in the world within an hour. The plane has been tested in computer models and wind tunnels, but they can only simulate speeds up to Mach 15 (11,400mph). A real test was the only way to determine if the plane will remain flying at high speeds. Also the researchers wanted to test the carbon composite materials designed to withstand the extreme temperatures the plane will experience on its skin and also the navigation systems that will control its trajectory as it moves at almost four miles per second.
Had the project worked, the Falcon HTV might have replaced intercontinental ballistic missiles. But all didn’t go with the plan. After separating from the rocket at the edge of space and beginning its return to Earth, the aircraft went silent during the gliding stage of the test flight, when it was due to perform a series of manoeuvres as it hurtled through the atmosphere. The loss of the hypersonic aircraft is a serious setback for engineers trying to perfect the art of flying at such spectacular speeds.
The technology powering the Falcon project is still expected to one day propel people across great distances some 22 times quicker than modern jetliners! Can you believe now!!!