EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., USA - May 26, 2010
|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.
Courtesy of U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Cassidy
An X-51A Waverider flight-test vehicle
successfully made the longest supersonic combustion ramjet-powered hypersonic flight
May 26 off the southern California Pacific coast
The more than 200 second
burn by the X-51's Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne-built
air breathing scramjet engine
accelerated the vehicle to Mach 5
The previous longest scramjet burn in a flight test was 12 seconds
in a NASA X-43
officials called the test, the first of four planned, an unqualified success.
The flight is considered the first use of a practical hydrocarbon fueled scramjet
"We are ecstatic to have accomplished most of our test points on the X-51A's very first hypersonic mission," said Charlie Brink, a 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 jet engines."
launched at about 10 a.m. from here, carried under the left wing of an Air Force Flight Test Center B-52 Stratofortress
Then, flying at 50,000 feet
over the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea Range
, it was released.
Four seconds later an Army Tactical Missile
solid rocket booster accelerated the X-51 to about Mach 4.8
mach before it and a connecting interstage were jettisoned.
The launch and separation were normal, Mr. Brink
Four X-51A cruisers
have been built for the Air Force
and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
by industry partners Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne
officials intend to fly the three remaining X-51A flight test
vehicles this fall, Mr. Brink
officials currently plan to fly each on virtually identical flight profiles, building knowledge from each successive flight.
, normally defined as beginning at Mach 5
, five times speed of sound, presents unique technical challenges with heat and pressure, which make conventional turbine engines impractical.
Program officials said producing thrust with a scramjet has been compared to lighting a match in a hurricane and keeping it burning.
"This first flight was the culmination of a six-year effort by a small, but very talented AFRL, DARPA and industry development team," Mr. Brink
"Now we will go back and really scrutinize our data. No test is perfect, and I'm sure we will find anomalies that we will need to address before the next flight. But anyone will tell you that we learn just as much, if not more, when we encounter a glitch."
noted while development of the X-51A's engine
and the test program are complex, controlling costs has been a key objective.
The team has incorporated or adapted existing proven technologies and elected from the outset not to build recovery systems in the flight test vehicles, in an effort to control costs and focus funding on the vehicle's fuel-cooled scramjet engine.
said he believes the X-51A program
will provide knowledge required to develop the game changing technologies needed for future access to space and hypersonic weapon applications