What Crashed Our Hypersonic Drone?

Aug 13, 2011
Originally published on August 13, 2011 9:00 am
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JACKI LYDEN, host: The Pentagon is investigating why it lost contact with its hypersonic unmanned aircraft over the Pacific Ocean, on Thursday. The superfast drone, shaped like an arrowhead and called the Falcon, is designed to fly at a speed of 13,000 miles an hour, and deliver a conventional warhead anywhere in the world within one hour. NPR's Tom Bowman has this report.

TOM BOWMAN: In the end, the world's fastest aircraft crashed short of its planned half-hour flight. Officials point to successes in the program that already has cost about $320 million. A rocket boosted the Falcon nearly into space. The drone was able to achieve the right trajectory. But, says Air Force Major Chris Schulz, researchers don't know how to maintain the desired control during flight. If they can get it to work, military planners say the Falcon could be used to attack imminent threats, like an enemy missile being readied on the launch pad.

The Falcon first flew last year. Contact was lost early in that flight, and it also crashed into the Pacific.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.