US Air Force breaks maglev world record speed at 1,019kmph

21 Apr 2016

Preparing the maglev sled for launch. Image via US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Randahl J. Jenson

A magnetic levitation (maglev) sled designed by the US Air Force has fired its way into the history books by breaking the current world land-speed record for a maglev craft, at a blistering speed of 1,019kmph (633mph).

The maglev sled has been undergoing a series of tests over the past number of months at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. The system uses powerful magnets to steady the rocket-propelled sled on the specially-designed 2,100ft track.

The frictionless future mode of transport was made possible by onsite engineers cooling the series of magnets down to the rather chilly temperature of four degrees Kelvin above absolute zero to ensure the smoothest ride.

In its latest test, the Air Force team – whose motto is ‘Go Mach 10’ – said it has now broken the maglev speed record one test after another, with its latest achievement far surpassing the previous tests, with the last record being 513mph (825kmph).

A few ‘uncontrolled variables’

Once the rocket booster blasted from the back of the sled, which weighs more than 900kg, it accelerated at a pace of 928ft per second, however, the test wasn’t a complete success, as the crew experienced a few “uncontrolled variables”, but nothing that jeopardised the test.

Explaining why the US military might be interested in such technology, Lt Col Shawn Morgenstern, the commander of the 846th TS that ran the test, said: “The maglev system gives us the ability to test systems without much vibration.

“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.”

Morgenstern went on to say that the team now plans on re-working the design of the sled using lighter materials to get it going even faster in the coming years.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic