Update: Weather conditions forced a delay in Wednesday's test. Liftoff is now scheduled for 7am PST Thursday.
Today, an unmanned plane will will take off from a California base for a test flight that will reach speeds of 13,000 miles per hour- fast enough that you could get from New York to California in 12 minutes.
It's called the the Falcon HTV-2. Shaped like an arrowhead, it initially launches as part of a larger rocket, separates, and then cuts through the Earth’s atmosphere at an incredible gliding speed 20 times the speed of sound.
Fox News reports this is the second experimental time the Falcon HVT-2 has been demonstrated in flight. The first test flight was back in April 2010, and lasted for 9 minutes. Air Force Maj. Chris Schulz said in a DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) news release that the goal of the second flight is to "validate our assumptions and gain further insight into extremely high Mach regimes that we cannot fully replicate on the ground."
The flight plan for the Falcon HV-2 is similar to that of a space program rocket ship. It takes off in a rocket capsule, breaks free in the earth's atmosphere, and then fires its own engines to level off.
You can watch a computerized simulation of the plane taking off while inside the rocket pod here:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/v/KnT08QTNoEA?version=3&hl=en_US expand=1]
And cruising in flight after atmospheric re-entry below:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/v/EoB1JEtL860?version=3&hl=en_US expand=1]
As for the endgame of this hyper-fast aircraft testing, the U.S. military hopes with this technology it could one day strike anywhere in the world in less than 1 hour.