An unmanned hypersonic plane — capable of travelling about 20 times the speed of sound — developed for US defence research into super-fast global strike capability was launched from a rocket early Thursday but contact was lost after the experimental craft began flying on its own.
There was no immediate information on how much of the mission's goals were achieved.
The fastest plane ever built, the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2) is capable of attaining top speed of 21,580kmph. It means that one day it can bring down the travel time between New Delhi and New York to around 30 minutes, withstanding temperatures of almost 2,000ºC, hotter than the melting point of steel.
The Falcon HTV-2 started life in 2003 as part of a Pentagon and the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) research project to build a plane that could reach (and potentially deliver bombs to) any part of the world in less than an hour.
The design and flight patwere tweaked since an aborted test flight in April last year. Nine minutes into that mission, which succeeded in flying for 139 seconds at Mach 22, the onboard computer detected an anomaly and ordered the plane to ditch into the ocean for safety reasons.
Darpa engineers have not disclosed which other countries are experimenting with the technology, it is believed that Indian defence scientists are also fairly advanced on hypersonic technology.