LOS ANGELES, March 27 (UPI) -- NASA's experimental hypersonic plane screamed over the California skies and into the Pacific Ocean Saturday as it briefly exceeded Mach 7.
The unpiloted X-43A aircraft used a scramjet engine, an exotic design that could one day be used for space shuttle propulsion systems, military applications and airliners that can circumnavigate the globe in a matter of hours.
A scramjet burns hydrogen but take its oxygen from the air when its forced into the engine at very high speed.
The X-43A was launched from a B-52 bomber that flew out of Edwards Air Force Base, the BBC reported. At cruising altitude, the X-43A was launched with an initial boost by a rocket to 3,500 mph and then used its own engine optimized to work in the thin upper altitudes to accelerate to around 5,000 mph -- more than seven times the speed of sound.
The scramjet operated for only 11 seconds, leaving the wedge-shaped X-43A to glide through the atmosphere before splashing down off the California coast.
The flight marked the first time a non-rocket, air-breathing engine has successfully powered a vehicle at hypersonic speeds.
A previous attempt to fly an X-43A ended in the vehicle's destruction when its launch system failed.