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Guinness World Records Certifies NASA's Aircraft Speed Record

NASA's X-43A is already headed for the record books, but Guinness World Records officials had better be prepared for an update. In October, NASA hopes to bump its recently set world speed record for a jet-powered aircraft from Mach 7 to Mach 10. Mach 10 is ten times the speed of sound, or approximately 7,200 mph.

Meanwhile, NASA is glowing over this week's recognition by the self-proclaimed "keeper of the world's records" of the Mach 7 record set on March 27, when the unpiloted, 12-ft-long aircraft achieved Mach 6.83 -- almost seven times the speed of sound, or nearly 5,000 mph -- in an 11-second flight over the Pacific Ocean to demonstrate highly-advanced engine technologies.

Guinness World Records citation Image at right: Guinness World Records formally recognized the NASA Hyper-X world speed record with this certificate and inclusion of the record into its database. Image: Guinness World Records.

The flight easily set a world speed record for an air-breathing - or jet - engine aircraft. The previous known record was held by a ramjet-powered missile, which achieved slightly over Mach 5. High-speed air-breathing engines, like a ramjet, mix compressed air from the atmosphere with fuel to provide combustion. The same is true of the scramjet -- or supersonic combustion ramjet -- that powers the X-43A. The highest speed attained by a rocket-powered airplane, NASA's X-15 aircraft, was Mach 6.7. The fastest air-breathing manned vehicle, the SR-71, achieved slightly more than Mach 3. The X-43A more than doubled the top speed of the jet-powered SR-71.

The accomplishment will be included in the 2006 Guinness World Records book, set for release this time next year, and will soon appear on their Web site at Their database contains these details:

"On 27 March 2004, NASA's unmanned Hyper-X (X-43A) airplane reached Mach 6.83, almost seven times the speed of sound. The X-43A was boosted to an altitude of 29,000 m (95,000 ft) by a Pegasus rocket launched from beneath a B-52B aircraft. The revolutionary 'scramjet' aircraft then burned its engine for around 11 seconds during flight over the Pacific Ocean."

Guinness World Records' science editor David Hawksett has already expressed an interest in attending the Fall flight, in hopes of personally watching the next record setting flight. He said this about the record recognized this week:

X-43A during March flight Image at left: The X-43A flew nearly seven times the speed of sound on March 27, 2004. Image Credit: NASA

"Operating an atmospheric vehicle at almost Mach 7 is impressive enough, but to be able to use oxygen from the air, instead of a fuel tank, as it screams into the engine intakes at 5,000 mph is a mind-boggling technical achievement. It's wonderful to see scramjet technology finally begin to take off."

The flights of the X-43A are part of NASA's Hyper-X Program. NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia develops the technology while the Dryden Flight Research Center in California conducts the flight tests.

Technologies from the program may be applied to future hypersonic missiles, hypersonic airplanes, the first stage of two-stage-to-orbit reusable launch vehicles and single-stage-to-orbit reusable launch vehicles.

Keith Henry
NASA Langley Research Center