May 27, 2010

X-51A Waverider Breaks Hypersonic Record

An experimental US Air Force aircraft set a record for hypersonic flight Thursday by flying over 3 minutes at Mach 6, which is six times the speed of sound.

The Air Force reported on its website that the X-51A Waverider was released from a B-52 Stratofortress off the southern California coast Wednesday morning.  Its scramjet engine accelerated the vehicle to Mach 6, and it flew autonomously for 200 seconds before losing acceleration.  At that point the test was then terminated.

The Air Force said the previous record for a hypersonic scramjet burn was 12 seconds.

"We are ecstatic to have accomplished many of the X-51A test points during its first hypersonic mission," Charlie Brink, an X-51A program manager with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, told the Associated Press.

"We equate this leap in engine technology as equivalent to the post-World War II jump from propeller-driven aircraft to jet engines," Brink said.

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Boeing Co. built the Waverider for the Air Force.

Joe Vogel, Boeing's director of hypersonic, told AP, "This is a new world record and sets the foundation for several hypersonic applications, including access to space, reconnaissance, strike, global reach and commercial transportation."

Four X-51A cruisers have been built for the Air Force, and the remaining three will be tested later this year.

"No test is perfect," Brink told AP, "and I'm sure we will find anomalies that we will need to address before the next flight."


Image Caption: An X-51A Waverider successfully launched from a B-52 Stratofortress, like the one shown here, on May 26, 2010. It was the longest supersonic combustion ramjet-powered hypersonic flight to date and accelerated to Mach 5. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Cassidy)


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