15 July 2002
'Son of Concorde' test flight ends in disaster
By Barbie Dutter in Sydney
A test launch of a supersonic jetliner envisaged to replace Concorde ended in disaster yesterday when a 36ft scale model spiralled out of control before crashing and exploding in the South Australian desert.
The spectacular setback to the Japanese superjet project, which has taken five years to bring to the testing stage, came seconds after takeoff at Woomera, the site of a long-abandoned British rocket testing range.
Scientists had spent six months preparing to launch the model of a jet that they hope will one day fly twice the range of Concorde, carry three times as many passengers and reduce the sonic boom to the rumble of a standard jumbo jet.
The model was supposed to ride piggyback on a booster rocket to a height of 12.5 miles at a speed of more than 1,500mph. The booster should then have performed a barrel roll and released the model, which was to glide back to earth at twice the speed of sound in a test flight taking 14 minutes.
Instead, the aircraft separated from its booster during the launch.
Kimio Sakata, director of the team that developed the model, said: "There's a little disappointment. We have to redesign and re-manufacture some of the components. After that we would like to have another launch."
Witnesses said the rocket climbed to around 330ft before turning over and spiralling erratically through the air. It then slammed to the ground and burst into flames.
The model, equipped with 900 sensors to assess its performance, was unmanned and nobody was injured.
The National Experimental Supersonic Transport (NEXST) project is a push by Japan's National Aerospace Laboratory to create a new generation of supersonic commercial airliners.