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Hypersonic plane: New York to LA in less than 12 minutes

By Adam Levine, CNN
  • Defense agency to test hypersonic aircraft
  • It will fly at around 13,000 miles per hour

Washington (CNN) -- The U.S. military is preparing to launch a test flight of a hypersonic aircraft capable of reaching any target in the world in less than an hour.

Designed by the military research group DARPA, which stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the triangular wedge of zoom is capable of reaching Mach 20, which is approximately 13,000 miles per hour, according to the agency. At such a speed, the aircraft will be subject to temperatures in excess of 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

The test of the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, called HTV-2, is slated for Thursday between 10 a.m. ET and 4 p.m. ET from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It will be launched off of a Minotaur IV rocket and then re-enter the earth's atmosphere over the Pacific.

This is the second run for the hypersonic vehicle. A first test in April 2010 ended with the HTV-2 crashing into the Pacific after a loss of contact nine minutes into the flight. But those nine minutes provided DARPA with some key information about flying at 3.6 miles per second. The second flight will build on that as the team tests the capability of maintaining control and communications, resisting the intense heat and other effects of flying 22 times faster than a commercial jetliner. As DARPA puts it on the HTV-2 site, at that speed "air doesn't travel around you - you rip it apart."

The launch, originally slated for Wednesday but then scrubbed because of weather, will not be broadcast live but the public can follow progress on the DARPA Twitter feed.