Last month, more than 70 years since the dream of sustained hypersonic flight was first born out of Nazi designs for a manned bomber with a global reach, the US Air Force’s latest experimental hypersonic aircraft was lost during an attempt to maintain Mach 6 for merely five minutes. Hypersonic (high supersonic) speeds are those greater than Mach 5, or 3,500mph. During the 1960s, US engineers thought they had the prize in their sights with top-secret programmes such as Project Rheinberry, whose goal was to produce a rocket-powered Mach 17 air-launched reconnaissance aircraft for the CIA. But these projects never moved beyond the experimental stage.
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