Back in May of 2013, the US Air Force successfully tested out the X-51 Waverider, a hypersonic aircraft that flew approximately 60,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean. And now, scientists from both the Air Force Research Laboratory and Pentagon’s research arm are collaborating to built upon this ‘success’. The resultant contrivance will also pertain to a high-speed aircraft that will be able to cross the threshold of Mach 5 (5 times the speed of sound or almost 4,000 mph). And before you raise your eyebrows; yes, the planned aircraft is envisaged to be unmanned that can fly around strategic distances in a pretty short period of time.
Now in terms of technology, the aircraft (much like its tested predecessor X-51A) will be driven by a scramjet-based engine that inducts and then compresses air, before the fuel injection and combustion processes. In essence, the flow of the air passes the speed of sound in all stages (as opposed to other conventional jets), thus allowing the flying craft to achieve exceedingly high speeds that cross the thresholds of multiple Mach-barriers.
However, the scientist have also made it clear that the planned hypersonic aircraft will not only depend on its scramjet credentials. The engines will be further complemented by the right kind of materials and improved guidance systems that can function at such high speeds. In other words, the new aircraft will allude to a collective mechanism with updated technologies and features that can keep up with the velocities provided by scramjets.
So, the question naturally arises – why would be the purpose of such an unmanned hypersonic aircraft? Well, according to the researchers involved, the vehicle will most probably be used for tactical transportation of military equipment like sensors and weaponry between large distances (or potential conflict zones). But in terms of practicality, the US military has to wait for at least 8 years, before the advanced aircraft can take to the skies in 2023.
In any case, the US air force has seemingly embraced the scope of futuristic warfare – as is also evident from their successful testing of the CHAMP missile that can disable enemy electronics via electromagnetic pulses.