X-51A WaveRider

The US Air Force’s (USAF) fourth and final experimental Boeing-built X-51A WaveRider hypersonic jet has successfully completed its flight test, reaching a speed of Mach 5.1, over the Pacific Ocean.

Powered by supersonic combustion scramjet engine, the unmanned vehicle flew for three and a half minutes following release by a B-52H Stratofortress bomber from 50,000ft above the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea Range in California, US.

Accelerated by a solid rocket booster to around Mach 4.8 within 26 seconds of launch, the X-51A rose to Mach 5.1, more than five times the speed of sound, before making a controlled dive into the Pacific Ocean for planned destruction.

Boeing Phantom Works president Darryl Davis said: ”This test proves the technology has matured to the point that it opens the door to practical applications, such as advanced defence systems and more cost-effective access to space.”

Representing the longest air-breathing, scramjet-powered hypersonic flight in history, the six-minute test flight addressed all mission objectives, and provided 370 seconds of data for further analysis, according to the company.

WaveRider’s third test flight carried out in August 2012 ended in failure due to problems with one of the cruiser control fins, while a similar testing in June 2011 brought disappointment for the air force as the jet could only attain a speed of Mach 5.

The aircraft, however, flew for more than three minutes at Mach 4.88 speed during its first test flight in May 2010.

Aimed at developing a hypersonic aircraft, Waverider is one of several projects carried out in collaboration with the Department of Defense (DoD) and NASA that may lead to the production of faster missiles.

The programme is jointly managed by a consortium of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Boeing and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, and is supported by NASA.

Image: A USAF’s B-52H Stratofortress bomber prepares to release the X-51A WaveRider jet above the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea Range in California, US. Photo: Courtesy of US Air Force/Bobbi Zapka.

Defence Technology