U.S. hypersonic missile prototype destroyed after ‘inadvertently’ falling from B-52 bomber during flight test

A hypersonic missile prototype under development at the Pentagon’s shadowy research arm reportedly detached from a heavy bomber in mid-flight during a test, destroying the high-tech and secretive munition.

The ill-fated test saw the missile – a Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), a joint project of the Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – “inadvertently” separate from the B-52 carrying it and crash to the ground below, according to a report at Aviation Week.

Though DARPA declined to provide further details, stating all information on the flight demonstration is classified, the mishap is thought to have occurred near Edwards Air Force Base in California, where the military conducts tests on a number of new systems, including Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet.

It’s unclear where the missile landed, but the report suggested it may have crashed over a “designated testing range” near Edwards AFB, where its pieces were collected after impact. A range at nearby China Lake was proposed as another possible candidate.

DARPA’s HAWC program, which seeks to develop a scramjet-powered missile capable of hypersonic speeds, has fallen behind schedule by several months, missing its debut test flight originally planned for last year. Using oxygen from the atmosphere for propulsion rather than from onboard tanks, scramjets allow for smaller, lighter and faster munitions, and operate more efficiently at speeds in excess of Mach 5. With the recent testing accident, however, there’s apparently more work to be done on the cutting-edge weapon.

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