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Experimental Falcon HTV-2 Disintegrates at Mach 20

Written by on Monday, April 23rd, 2012

The US Air Force is in the business of speed. Decades ago, many people thought that breaking the sound barrier was impossible, or that it might even be lethal to human pilots. Nowadays, faster-than-sound travel is a relatively common feature among aircraft.

But in this quest to develop faster and faster aircraft, is there possibly such a thing as going too fast? Evidently, yes.

The top secret Falcon HTV-2 traveled so fast that it completely disintegrated. The HTV-2 is designed to be a high-speed nuclear bomb delivery device. The idea is that because it travels so fast — at around 13,000 miles per hour — that it can deliver a nuclear payload to anywhere on Earth in about 10 minutes. The HTV-2 operates the basic principle of the SR-71 Blackbird during the Cold War era. Even if enemies can detect the HTV-2 and can see it coming, how can you hit a target travelling 20 times faster than the speed of sound?

Luckily, the loss of this HTV-2 glider isn’t as dire as it might seem. As a nuclear payload delivery glider, it automatically comes with a short lifespan. In fact, the glider’s exterior layer is designed to burn away during its hypersonic journey, a bit like how small meteors buy antibiotics new zealand burn up on reentry into Earth. During a test with the HTV-2 last year, however, the air friction from such high speeds tore the aircraft apart.

With so few pieces of the aircraft left to analyze, it wasn’t until just recently that DARPA finally uncovered the reason for its catastrophic failure. As it turns out, more skin peeled off of the HTV than engineers had expected, causing grooves to appear along its surface. The HTV-2 then experienced a number of shockwaves before the turbulence caused the whole thing to disintegrate.

DARPA still considers the flight a success, despite the fact that the glider was destroyed. The HTV-2 successfully tested hypersonic speeds at Mach 20 for three minutes; additionally, this test successfully incorporated earlier findings about high-speed travel. DARPA plans to learn from its not-quite-mistakes and develop newer versions of the HTV-2 that can withstand higher levels of turbulence and heat stress.

The result of this testing should be an unstoppable aircraft that can deliver nuclear payloads to anywhere on earth. At such incredibly high speeds, it will actually be possible for the US to launch a nuclear weapon after an enemy has launched an ICBM on the US, and hit the aggressor before the ICBM strikes the US.

If you want advice about the world of military aviation, there’s no better people to turn to than men and women who have sat in the cockpit and flown some of the world’s most advanced aircraft. With over 50 current and ex-warfighters on call, Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. can give you access to up-to-date, first-hand technical and tactical expertise.

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