The trial flight by Japanese scientists of a new generation of supersonic airliner intended to replace Concorde ended in a spectacular crash in the Australian outback.
Observers said the one-tenth scale model of the superjet with the speed, twice the range and triple the capacity of Concorde crashed within seconds of takeoff from the launch site at Woomera in South Australia.
The 11-metre (36-foot) model, equipped with 900 sensors to assess its performance, appeared to lose control immediately after its launch then it spiralled downwards, crashing in flames.
But a spokesman for the project overseers said the cause of the crash was not immediately known.
The National Experimental Supersonic Transport (NEXST1) project is the cutting edge of a push by Japan's National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL) to create a new generation of supersonic commercial airliners.
Project spokesman Peter Nikoloff said Japanese scientists had been working on the jet for five years, although a full-sized version is not expected to be built for at least another decade.
The superjet, which will be 95 metres (314 feet) plane, was designed for long-haul flights, such as Sydney to London, where flying times could be reduced from 26 hours to 12.
The test launch, originally scheduled for last Thursday, was postponed because of adverse wind conditions and rescheduled to early Sunday when it was put off again for about two hours because of unsuitable weather.
The project aims to create a second generation of supersonic passenger aircraft to succeed the Concorde, which entered service in the mid 1970s, with a capacity of only about 100 passengers.
The planned plane would carry 300 passengers and match Concorde's speed of Mach Two (twice the speed of sound) but it would reduce its notorious sonic boom to a minor rumble. It would have twice the range of the Concorde and reduce fuel emissions by 75 percent.
The test model was intended to be launched to an altitude of 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) over South Australia on the back of a rocket booster.
Then it would have been put through a series of manoeuvres while measurements were taken as it returned to earth at nearly twice the speed of sound.
The project, which involves Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nissan Motor Corp, has so far cost 140 million dollars (80 million US).
Japan researchers had also spent five years and an estimated 350 million dollars in redeveloping the Woomera site for the launch as part of the NEXST1 program.
NAL Japan had planned four more test flights at Woomera next year.
It was the second project to experience recent difficulties at Woomera.
Last October, an experimental rocket crashed after its guidance fins moved during flight and sent it off course following its Woomera launch.
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Another XCOR Milestone for EZ-Rocket Two Flights in One Day
Los Angeles - Jul 16, 2002
XCOR Aerospace announced yesterday that its EZ-Rocket flew twice in one day. The flights were in preparation for the first air show flight of the EZ-Rocket at EAA AirVenture 2002 in Oshkosh, WI later this month. In addition to flying twice in one day, the EZ-Rocket performed two mid-flight engine restarts during each flight, another first for the EZ-Rocket.
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