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US Air Force sets new maglev record of more than 1,000km/h

21 April, 2016

The US Air Force has set a new world speed record for magnetically-levitated (maglev) transport by accelerating a rocket-propelled sled to a speed of 1,019km per hour (633 mph) at its Holloman base in New Mexico.

The 907kg (2,000lb) sled was propelled along an almost friction-free 640m-long (2,100ft) track supported by four superconducting magnets, cooled using liquid helium to a just four degrees above absolute zero.

The Air Force is developing the maglev technology to test sensitive electronic components for weapon systems. “The maglev system gives us the ability to test systems without much vibration,” explains Lt Col Shawn Morgenstern, commander of the Air Force’s 846th Test Squadron. “If you have sensitive components that are a part of a weapon system and you want to test them in a realistic environment, a system like this allows us to do that. We measure those vibration environments at various speeds to understand what the system is really capable of as we continue to go faster and faster.”

The US Air Force accelerated its rocket-propelled maglev sled to more than 1,000km/h on its test track in New Mexico
US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Randahl J. Jenson

The Air Force engineers are now planning to refine the design of the sled and possibly to exceed the speed of sound at 1,225 km/h (761mph). “We want to look at some lighter materials and continue to see what kind of capability we can get out of this system in terms of the speeds that we’re capable of going,” says Morgenstern.

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