DARPA Launches Falcon HTV-2 Glider, the World's Fastest Plane

At 7:45 a.m. PDT, an unmanned glider was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard a Minotaur 4 rocket. Overseen by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the glider, named HTV-4, is expected to reach suborbital space before reentering Earth's atmosphere at Mach 20 with the help of rocket thrusters to stay on course. If the hypersonic glider is able to reach Mach 20, or about 13,000 mph, it will become the fastest plane ever. At that speed, the HTV-2 could travel from New York City to Los Angeles in about 12 minutes.

Part of a program named the Prompt Global Strike, the HTV-2 is just one piece in DARPA's work to develop an advanced weapons system capable of reaching any point in the world in less than an hour.

"Assumptions about Mach 20 hypersonic flight were made from physics-based computational models and simulations, wind tunnel testing, and data collected from HTV-2's first test flight -- the first real data available in this flight regime at Mach 20," said Air Force Major Chris Schultz in a statement. "It's time to conduct another flight test to validate our assumptions and gain further insight into extremely high Mach regimes that we cannot fully replicate on the ground."

During that first flight, the glider overheated and crashed after just nine minutes. As engineers attempt to go from theory to practice, this is just one of the technical problems that must be overcome. At Mach 20, the HTV-2 needs to be able to withstand temperatures of nearly 2,000 Celsius, which is hotter than the melting point of steel.

Update: In the middle of the flight, DARPA tweeted that it had lost the ability to communicate with the HTV-2. The mission was off -- again. Not to worry, though. The Falcon "has an autonomous flight termination capability," DARPA said in a follow-up message; it shouldn't come crashing down through your roof.

Presented by

Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

Just In