New frontiers of speed


Nasa flew an unmanned experimental jet on Tuesday to a speed that preliminary data suggested was just short of 10 times the speed of sound - a record.

The X-43A - a supersonic combustion ramjet (scramjet) - made the run over a naval test range in the Pacific Ocean.

The 3.7m-long vehicle had already set a world best for an "air breathing" jet of Mach 6.83 - nearly seven times the speed of sound - on a flight in March.

The latest feat is the culmination of decades of work by many researchers.

Mach 10 is in the region of 11,000km/h or 6,800mph for the altitude at which the X43-A was being flown (33km or 111,000ft). The vehicle performed "flawlessly".

"It was about Mach 9.6," said engineer Randy Vorland. "We performed pretty much like we expected."

At the beginning of the 19th century no one had ever traveled faster than they could be carried by a horse or a sailing vessel. At the beginning of the 20th century no one had traveled faster than they could be carried by a train or early automobile--about 30 miles an hour. From the beginning of flight with the Wright brothers to braking the sound barrier took about 50 years. Shortky after the sound barrier was broken planes were flying at low multiples of the sound barrier and rockets were sending people into space traveling at unheard of speed. However, the new scramjet technology shows promise of even greater speed with the ptential to move people from the West Coast of teh US to the East Coast in about 30 minutes. Of course the plane would then probably have to circle for an hour or so waiting for an opportunity to land.


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