USAF vehicle breaks record for hypersonic flight

May 27, 2010
In this image provided by the U.S. Air Foce an X-51A Waverider rides under the wing of a B-52 Stratofortress Dec. 9, 2008. A similar X-51A successfully launched from a B-52 Stratofortress, Wednesday May 26, 2010. The Rocketdyne-built air breathing scramjet engine accelerated the vehicle to Mach 6. It was the longest supersonic combustion ramjet-powered hypersonic flight to date. (AP Photo/US Air Force - Mike Cassidy)

An experimental aircraft has set a record for hypersonic flight, flying more than 3 minutes at Mach 6 - six times the speed of sound.

The X-51A Waverider was released from a B-52 Stratofortress off the southern California coast Wednesday morning, the Air Force reported on its website. 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 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," said Charlie Brink, an X-51A program manager with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

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

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

Joe Vogel, Boeing's director of hypersonics, said, "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 , and the remaining three will be tested this fall.

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


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baudrunner
1.5 / 5 (8) May 27, 2010
About 400 kilometres in just over three minutes. Not bad. Proof that the scramjet is a viable concept just about ready for practical applications. Just think, North Korea could be dust before the missile they sent up to justify the response even gets close to its target.
patnclaire
May 27, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
gunslingor1
3.7 / 5 (3) May 27, 2010
Oh come on! That's a freaking rocket, not an aircraft!
Skepticus
not rated yet May 27, 2010
it flew autonomously for 200 seconds before losing acceleration


The article is unclear on whether the scramjet lost combustion, out of fuel, or was in controlled shutdown when thrust equals drag at Mach 6? (and what is the design top speed for this prototype?)
PinkElephant
3.4 / 5 (5) May 27, 2010
The article is unclear on whether the scramjet lost combustion, out of fuel, or was in controlled shutdown when thrust equals drag at Mach 6? (and what is the design top speed for this prototype?)
Any other critical performance info you'd like the Air Force to disclose for world-wide consumption? Come on now, you ought to be grateful for what little they did publicize. And I wouldn't put TOO much trust into either the flight duration, or the top speed numbers, either...
wolfkeeper
1.2 / 5 (6) May 27, 2010
I still think rockets are much faster. This thing flies at Mach 6- the Space Shuttle flies at Mach 25(!)

And another difference is that rockets work from Mach 0, whereas this only works from Mach 4 or so.

And they talk about *possibly* using this for space access in the *future*, but scramjets are dog-heavy and rockets have been able to do this for about 80 years.

Scramjets talk a good storm, but they don't deliver (yet/ever).

Clearly missiles are one possibility though for uses.
ubavontuba
3.7 / 5 (3) May 27, 2010
I still think rockets are much faster. This thing flies at Mach 6- the Space Shuttle flies at Mach 25(!)

And another difference is that rockets work from Mach 0, whereas this only works from Mach 4 or so.

And they talk about *possibly* using this for space access in the *future*, but scramjets are dog-heavy and rockets have been able to do this for about 80 years.

Scramjets talk a good storm, but they don't deliver (yet/ever).

Clearly missiles are one possibility though for uses.
Well, the point is to eventually eliminate a substantial portion of the fuel oxydizer carried aboard conventional rockets, thereby reducing weight and increasing efficiency.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (3) May 27, 2010
...but scramjets are dog-heavy...
Actually, compared to rockets scramjets are much lighter: they only have to carry fuel, but no oxidizer. That's the whole point of a scramjet: it's air-breathing.
And they talk about *possibly* using this for space access...
Not exactly.

An air-breathing engine wouldn't work very well in vacuum. What scramjets are good for, is fast and light atmospheric flight.

One (distant) possibility is trans-continental passenger planes that skim the top of the stratosphere, going at Mach 10+.

But for the military, a more intriguing and near-term development would indeed be lighter, more compact, very fast, and maneuverable long-range missiles that don't enter space, are more difficult to detect, and much more difficult to intercept.

Of course it's also conceivable to use hypersonic engines in a second stage for rockets or launch boosters for reusable space planes, as well.
El_Nose
3 / 5 (4) May 28, 2010
@pinkelephant -- we live in a democracy -- as long as we the tax payers are paying for its construction there is no need to hide its specs -- there should never be secrets in a democracy -- or a federal republic --- only issues of national security fall in that catagory and a vehicle is not a national security matter -- how to make it would be but how fast it goes and its fuel consumption should be readily available
Skepticus
not rated yet May 28, 2010
@ubavontuba: While rockets are good for a speedy access to space, it's harder to change their speeds and directions in the atmosphere. And they are not cheap, especially the liquid fuel types. The solid fuel types use stuffs that are frankly no good at all for the air they left behind for everybody to breathe. Your skepticism re the usefulness of scram jets are premature. It took more than 50 years to make the turbofan engines what they are today, with you flying on airlines powered by them without any thoughts. I don't think anybody likes to spend 16 hours or so in cattle class. Eventually, scramjet-powered airlines will change that. We just have reached the point where advances in material sciences. computing and engineering make possible solid progress in scram jets developments. So please hold your horses for another 10 years before posting your convictions.
ubavontuba
3.3 / 5 (4) May 28, 2010
As an aviation fan, I've just got to say it:

What a cool picture! For such an old design, the B-52 Stratofortress is still a magnificent old bird. Her very name conjures visions of grace, might, and majesty. Newer aircraft designs might be stealthy and sleek, but they simply don't look nearly so ...menacing.
slaveunit
2 / 5 (1) Jun 02, 2010
It needs to be rmembered that this technology will open up space as well as really cool missile tech as a scramjet combined with a rocket will make the single stage to orbit spaceplane a reality drop launch costs 1000 fold and double as an airliner to get people around the world in 40 minutes, not to mention burn hydrogen and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. oh and to suggest that military tech have its specs splurged all over is a nonsense so long as the elected reps are properly educated thats what matters and only if fraud/mismanagement is exposed should wider scrutiny be allowed. if we dont have some secrets (though the fewer the better) there will be no democracy
johnnyG
not rated yet Jul 06, 2010
It looks like a B52 landing to me. (flaps down, wheels out)

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