NASA plane sets speed record

An experimental X-43 pilotless plane has broken the world speed record for an atmospheric engine, briefly flying at 7,700km per hour.

    The aircraft was dropped from the wing of a B-52 bomber

    NASA on Saturday said the hypersonic aircraft flew at seven times the speed of sound after being dropped from the wing of a modified B-52 bomber, boosted by an auxiliary rocket to an altitude of nearly 100,000ft.

    The aircraft, a cross between a jet and a rocket, flew on its own for 10 seconds before plunging into the Pacific Ocean.

    "This is a success. Everything worked as planned," said NASA spokeswoman Leslie William.

    "So far everything has been successful," she added.

    Aiming high

    NASA says the prototype engine was destined to eventually power a new generation of space shuttles.

    The test of the tiny prototype, only 3.6m in length, marked the first time a non-rocket, air-breathing jet engine has powered a vehicle in flight at hypersonic speeds, defined as speeds above Mach 5.

    The previous world speed record was established by an SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, which flew at Mach 3.2.

    An experimental X-15 plane was able to fly at Mach 6.7, but with a rocket engine.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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