SYDNEY, Australia – Japan's space agency on Monday completed the first successful test of a prototype jet that can fly at twice the speed of sound, three years after an earlier test ended in a fiery wreck in the Australian Outback, an official said.
Kenichi Saito, a spokesman for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (search), or JAXA, said Monday's unmanned test flight went "as planned."
"Everything was very good and the aircraft landed ... normally," Saito said in a telephone interview. "We are going to conduct the [data] analysis, but currently we think this flight was a success."
A breakthrough in supersonic flight could help Japan leap ahead in the aerospace field. The country, which manufactures high-tech components for U.S.-based Boeing Co. (BA), has only a limited domestic airplane industry.
Saito said the prototype 38-foot-long, arrow-shaped craft, developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., (search) was launched on a rocket and reached a flying altitude of 11 miles before floating back to Earth by parachute.
The test follows a three-year hiatus after the first experimental flight of the unmanned aircraft separated prematurely from its booster rocket and crashed into the desert.
Monday's $10 million experiment marked a crucial step in Japan's plans to develop a larger supersonic aircraft that can carry 300 passengers between Tokyo and Los Angeles in about four hours.
It also underpinned a June agreement between Japan and France to jointly research a possible successor to the Concorde (search) over the next three years.
The Concorde first flew in 1969 and became a symbol of French and European industrial prowess. In July 2000, a Concorde crashed in flames after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris, killing 109 people. The sleek but costly planes were retired from commercial service in 2003, never having recouped the billions of tax dollars invested in them.
Japan hopes to have a successor making regular flights by around 2025, Saito said.