The multi-million dollar experimental aircraft that travels at 20 times the speed of sound failed its second and final test flight Thursday morning after it plunged into the Pacific Ocean. The aircraft, dubbed Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, stopped sending back real-time data to engineers and scientists who were monitoring the mission.
The Falcon program began in 2003 and reportedly cost taxpayers about $320 million. The tests aimed to harness the hypersonic technology for use with 21st century ballistic missiles. The first flight called HTV-2a, which took place in April 2010, also ended in failure after only nine minutes in the air.
Boosted by a Minotaur IV Lite rocket, the unmanned aircraft was launched from Space Launch Complex 8 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, north-west of Santa Barbara. The superfast plane is part of Lockheed Martin's "prompt global strike" concept. It is being funded by US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
Prompt Global Strike is an effort to develop a system that can deliver a precision conventional weapon strike anywhere in the world within one hour just as an ICBM can do with a nuclear warhead. According to reports, the current administration requested $204.8 million for the said effort in the upcoming budget year.
In a statement, Falcon program manager Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz said, "Here's what we know: We know how to boost the aircraft to near space. We know how to insert the aircraft into atmospheric hypersonic flight. We do not yet know how to achieve the desired control during the aerodynamic phase of flight. It's vexing; I'm confident there is a solution. We have to find it."
Pentagon believes that hypersonic vehicles are the best hope for replacing nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles as a way to hit a target in an hour or less.