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August 14th, 2012
06:23 AM ET

Air Force's unmanned hypersonic Waverider flight test to be 'fastest hunk of junk in galaxy'? Barbara Starr on what it could mean for future air travel

It's not often that we get to reference "Star Wars" on the show, but when engineers say they're going to test an unmanned aircraft and have it fly at five times the speed of sound, it just seems appropriate.

This morning on "Early Start," CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr explained why engineers and geeks are excited about the Air Force's unmanned hypersonic test flight of the X-51A "Waverider" aircraft off the coast of California today.

Aerospace engineers are hoping they can keep the aircraft flying for five minutes at Mach 6, or about 4,500 miles per hour...five times the speed of sound. That's fast enough to fly from New York to London in less than an hour. If the test flight is successful, it could usher in the next generation of missiles, military aircraft, spacecraft and maybe even passenger planes.

Starr says the Pentagon believes this is the kind of military technology that would give the U.S. an advantage. The practical applications can be related to recent examples. Starr relates it to one operation in 1998, when the government used Tomahawk missiles to attack a camp they believed Osama Bin Laden was training at. By the time they arranged everything to send to the target, Bin Laden was long gone. Starr explains that this type of flight would compresses military decision making time to within minutes.

With the Waverider test, the Air Force wants to see if this type of flight is feasible. If it is, the U.S. military could be looking at putting missiles and potentially troops on target within minutes and hours.

See Starr's report on "Early Start" this morning in the video above.


Filed under: Air Force • Air travel • Engineering • Military