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THE WORLD

Model Supersonic Jet Crashes in Desert

July 14, 2002|From Associated Press

WOOMERA, Australia — A scale model of a Japanese supersonic jetliner exploded shortly after it was launched Sunday on the back of a booster rocket and crashed into the central Australian desert, witnesses said.

The disastrous end to the first test of Japan's National Experimental Supersonic Transport, or NEXST, came seconds after takeoff from the Woomera rocket testing range.

No one was injured in the crash; both the rocket and the model plane were unmanned.

The Japanese government-funded project aims to build a plane that would fly at twice the speed of sound, with the supersonic boom reduced to the rumble of a Boeing 747.

The plane would fly twice the distance of the Concorde, which has a range of 3,550 nautical miles, and seat three times as many passengers. The Concorde typically holds 100 passengers.

After the rocket climbed to about 330 feet, it turned over and began spiraling erratically through the air before slamming into the ground and exploding, witnesses at the test site said.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known. The Japanese team responsible for the test did not immediately comment but was expected to give a news conference later today.

The launch had been postponed several times because of strong winds.

The 36-foot model was to have ridden piggyback on the booster rocket to a height of 12.5 miles at a speed exceeding 1,500 mph.

After performing a barrel roll, the booster was supposed to release the model, which was to have glided to Earth in a 14-minute flight to test its automatic flight systems.

Boeing Co., which is developing its own "Sonic Cruiser"--designed to fly at just under the speed of sound--was eagerly awaiting the results of the Japanese project.

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