U.S. Air Force officials are currently testing projectiles and hope to develop a hypersonic plane by 2023.

Ongoing tests by the Air Force and Pentagon research arm DARPA are being undertaken with a view to developing a hypersonic plane by 2023, according to Air Force Chief Scientist Mica Endsley. The new vehicle could transport sensors, equipment or weaponry, writes Mark Prigg for the Daily Mail.

Hypersonic Planes Could Fly London - New York In 1 Hour

Hypersonic plane – Encouraging test results

Scientists were encouraged by the results of the test, which saw the vehicle reach speeds of over Mach 5. Officials previously predicted that only missile systems would be able to be tested by 2020, however their latest projections are more optimistic.

“Our goal is to make sure the Air Force has the knowledge in 2020 or over the next five years to be able to make acquisition decisions using this technology,” said Kenneth Davidson, manager of the hypersonic materials development at the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Hypersonic missiles would be a huge asset to the military, allowing targets to be hit with no risk to pilots and aircraft. They could also hit mobile targets before they are able to move.

Unmanned aircraft have also been tested off the coast of Southern California, reaching over 5 times the speed of sound. Air Force officials said that the X-51A WaveRider hit Mach 5.1 during a test last year, powered by a scramjet engine. Scramjet technology is the subject of sustained research by the Air Force, and spending has reached $300 million.

Both military and commercial benefits of technology

The program hopes to develop a missile that can hit a target anywhere on Earth within hours. Other projects include the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon concept and the Tactical Boost Glide, which DARPA hopes to test in 2018 or 2019. China is also developing the technology, along with Russia.

Although the military is working to weaponize the technology, it could also lead to much shorter journey times for commercial air passengers. “For example, currently today to get from NY to LA is a five hour flight in a commercial aircraft. With a hypersonic weapon, you could do that same thing in about 30 minutes. You can go great distances at great speeds,” said Endsley.

The last WaveRider test saw the vehicle make its longest flight yet. “This test proves the technology has matured to the point that it opens the door to practical applications,” said Darryl Davis, president of Boeing Phantom Works, which built the WaveRider.