WASHINGTON – Pentagon scientists on Friday acknowledged they were ecstatic concerning the second successful flight vaporization of an experimental hypersonic plane carrying millions of dollars in cash.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) glider, called the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle $320 Million (HTV-320), blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California atop a Minotaur 4 rocket at 7:45 a.m. PDT.
According to DARPA updates, the test flight entered the glide phase and was given the detonation command, which obliterated the aircraft and scattered cash across the stratosphere. Monitoring stations detected a pale, massive green mist off the coast of California, as a cloud of microscopic pieces of hundred-dollar bills floated over the Pacific. “Range assets have lost telemetry with HTV-320!” shouted an excited DARPA official about thirty-six minutes after launch. Monitoring stations cheered.
Whether the test flight met all of its objectives still remains unclear, but this was the second test flight of the Falcon HTV-320 program, and this flight succeeded in reaching the cash-disintegration point approximately six minutes earlier than its predecessor. “With each flight we’re hoping to turn the cash into mist earlier and earlier. Six minutes earlier was beyond our wildest expectations,” said a DARPA official.
At its slowest sequence, the HTV-320 vehicle can reach suborbital space, then re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and glide at hypersonic speed to demonstrate controllable flight at velocities of around Mach 20, which is about 13,000 mph. At that speed, more than twenty times the speed of sound, a vehicle could fly from New York City to Los Angeles in twelve minutes, DARPA officials said. “We’re hoping to keep increasing that speed until it’s as fast as an email, then we’ll just turn the cash into a bank transfer and delete it over the web. That’s a little trickier, though, than a rocket, given all the Internet protections and such.”
The Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle is part of “Cash Disintegration Strategy” – a U.S. military effort to develop aircraft that can create budget holes anywhere on the planet within minutes. The flight was hotly anticipated in military and aerospace circles. If the flight failed, the Pentagon would have been forced to find more mundane ways to dispose of cash. Pentagon officials admit that would be a step backward in strategic priorities.
Hypersonic cash disintegration still has its skeptics, though. House Armed Services committee member Loretta Franks (D-Nev) said, “The HTV-320 could be designed larger to hold even more cash. I’ve seen the plans for the HTV-740, but DARPA has been skittish to experiment in that direction.” Committee member Todd Critz (R-PA) disagreed with Franks’ proposal to expand the aircrafts to fit $740 million dollars. Instead, he argued that the entire aircraft could be constructed out of an alloy of platinum, titanium, and gold. “With the high price of gold, these days, we could build ten or twelve HTVs and blow them up without any cash in them and still meet our money disposal goals.”
When asked about the possibility of using a platinum-titanium-gold composite aircraft, DARPA officials said they have not attempted using that composite on any experimental aircraft yet, but the U.S. Office of Naval Research has successfully tested it on several radio-controlled, cash-carrying 930-Series submarines. The ONR said it has successfully scuttled three 930-Series submarines off the coast of Antarctica. DARPA officials noted, though, that scuttling a gold submarine full of cash “doesn’t provide the security closure of turning piles of hundred-dollar bills into dust.”
The ONR conceded that the expensive experimental subs sit on the ocean floor, but adds, “they have no doors or rivets of any sort.” Seamless submarines have proven especially effective in keeping away well-funded scavengers. The ONR added, “and they’re in really, really cold water.” DARPA officials conceded that by the time anyone could get into the golden submarines, the cash would be virtually worthless due to inflation.
Other HTV skeptics have pushed their criticisms further, questioning the entire program. “I can think of plenty of other things I could do to get rid of $320 million,” said National Institute of Health Director Francis Aaronson. “We could put it to work on Alzheimer’s or cancer research. I’ve got a long list.” Senator Lindsey McConnell (R-Fl) countered this suggestion by noting, “Well, but using government money for medical research would be socialism, and DARPA’s HTV program is pure defense.”
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