If everything goes well on Wednesday during the test flight of an experimental aircraft, Pentagon will be gifted with a vehicle that can fly at an awesome speed of 13,000 mph, or 20 times the speed of sound (Mach 20).
The arrowhead-shaped unmanned Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (FHTV2) is scheduled to be launched by an eight-story Minotaur IV rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 7 a.m. PDT on Wednesday.
After being separated from the rocket in the upper reaches of the Earth's atmosphere, the aircraft will glide over the Pacific Ocean at Mach 20. The flight will last for half-an-hour and after that the FHTV2 will splash down and sink near Kwajalein Atoll, about 4,100 miles from Vandenberg Air Force Base, reports said.
The FHTV2 aircraft, which can cover the distance between Los Angeles and New York in less than 12 minutes, is capable of delivering military strike anywhere in the world within an hour, Los Angeles Times reported.
The first test flight of FHTV took place in April 2010. But after 9 minutes of flight, it disappeared over the Pacific. Engineers suspected that a flaw in its design was the cause of the malfunction.
Described as "data truck" by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Falcon features numerous sensors that can gather data in an uncertain operating envelope. The changes that engineers have brought in to the second test flight include adjusting the FHTV2's center of gravity, decreasing the angle of attack flown and inclusion of the onboard reaction control system to supplement the vehicle flaps to maintain stability during flight operations, DARPA said.
Both the FHTVs were funded by DARPA and were built by Lockheed Martin Corp. If the government doesn't provide more funding, the scheduled second flight of the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 will be its last test.