August 15, 2012

X-51A Aircraft Crashes, Fails Test

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

The Air Force's new aircraft of the future crashed during a hypersonic test flight, hitting a speed bump in the future of creating quick flights from New York to London.

The X-51A WaveRider was designed to reach Mach 6, or 3,600 mph, after being dropped from a B-52 bomber.

The aircraft underwent a test on Tuesday, and was brought out off the Southern California coast to experience a few minutes of flying at hypersonic speeds.

Engineers hoped the futuristic aircraft would be able to sustain speeds for up to five minutes, which would have been twice as long as the previous X-51A test craft.

However, the Air Force announced on Wednesday that a faulty control fin prevented the X-51A from being able to start its "scramjet" engine, so the aircraft was lost at sea.

"It is unfortunate that a problem with this subsystem caused a termination before we could light the scramjet engine," Charlie Brink of the Air Force Research Laboratory at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, said in a statement.

The WaveRider successfully detached from the B-52, where it fell from the airplane for four-seconds in free fall. Afterwards, the rocket booster engines kicked on, as planned. But, the scramjet engine was supposed to take over once the rocket booster engines reached their maximum potential.

Fifteen-seconds after separating from the rocket booster, the WaveRider lost control, and prevented a test of the scramjet engine.

"All our data showed we had created the right conditions for engine ignition and we were very hopeful to meet our test objectives," Brink said in the statement.

The Air Force said program officials will now begin the process of working through an evaluation to determine the cause with "all factors at play."

One of four X-51A vehicle still remain, but officials have not decided when or if that vehicle will fly at this time.