Nevertheless, there have been some successfull flights of hypersonic technology, including on in May of 2013 wherein the X-51A Waverider flew over the Pacific Ocean reaching speeds of Mach 5.1.
This May 1 test flight wound up being the longest air-breathing hypersonic flight ever, wrapping up a $300 million technology demonstration program beginning in 2004, according to an Air Force statement.
“The X-51A took off from the Air Force Test Center at Edwards AFB, Calif., under the wing of B-52H Stratofortress. It was released at approximately 50,000 feet and accelerated to Mach 4.8 in about 26 seconds powered by a solid rocket booster. After separating from the booster, the cruiser’s supersonic combustion ramjet, or scramjet, engine then lit and accelerated the aircraft to Mach 5.1 at 60,000 feet,” a previous Air Force Statement explaining the test stated.
Naturally, massively increased speed could give drones an ability to urgently reach and potentially deliver weapons and sensors to crucial time-sensitive combat situations exponentially faster.
Future drones will also be quite stealthy, as a technique for having more success against high-tech air defenses. There are already a number of stealthy drones in various stages of development.
One such example is Lockheed Martin's RQ-170 Sentinel stealth UAV which, according to a 2011 report in The Atlantic, helped track Bin Laden’s compound prior to his death.
Boeing has unveiled its Phantom Ray, a fighter-sized unmanned combat air vehicle which first flew in 2011. The aircraft has a 50-foot wingspan, can climb to 40,000 feet and reach speeds of Mach .85.
Also, the Navy is still contemplating and analyzing future plans for a first-of-its kind stealthy, carrier launched drone, called the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne and Strike system (UCLASS). UCLASS is slated to arrive in the mid-2020s to give a Carrier Air Wing an ability to launch stealthy drone attacks over enemy territory without needing to launch from a nearby land-base and, in some cases, secure permission from a nearby country to take-off-and-land from the ground.
Kris Osborn became the Managing Editor of Scout Warrior in August of 2015. His role with Scout.com includes managing content on the Scout Warrior site and generating independently sourced original material. Scout Warrior is aimed at providing engaging, substantial military-specific content covering a range of key areas such as weapons, emerging or next-generation technologies and issues of relevance to the military. Just prior to coming to Scout Warrior, Osborn served as an Associate Editor at the Military.com. This story originally appeared in Scout Warrior.