This week, the unmanned X-51A Waverider failed to reach its max speed of Mach 6, or 3,600 mph, when it crashed in to the Pacific Ocean 15 seconds after separating from its rocket booster. The hypersonic scramjet engine never started and it was lost just as soon as it was launched.

The Air Force suspects a faulty control fin caused the failed flight.

The Waverider was supposed to sustain Mach 6 speeds for up to five minutes before landing in the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately this was the third unsuccessful flight for the Waverider. The Pentagon is betting huge on the development of hypersonic engines to help deploy weapons faster (to reach targets in minutes instead of hours).

Scramjet engines have no moveable parts as the technology uses air to drive the engine faster. In one end air goes, in the engine the air is compressed, mixed with fuel then a combustion effect takes place which pushes out the exhaust faster and hotter, it keeps doing this while trying to maintaining acceleration. In the Waverider’s case, with a potential to hit 3,600 mph.

There is one X-51A aircraft left for testing, but there is no word yet on when the next test will take place. Beyond the destructive intent of these vehicles, there are more practical commercial uses that could shorten travel time. So, sorry Star Wars fans, no X-Wings yet.

[via: USAToday images: Edwards Air Force Base]