Military Embedded Systems

Hypersonic UAV from Boeing completes longest scramjet-powered flight


May 06, 2013

John McHale

Editorial Director

Military Embedded Systems

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, CA. The X-51A WaveRider unmanned hypersonic vehicle from Boeing completed the longest air-breathing, scramjet-powered hypersonic flight in known history after flying for three and a half minutes on scramjet power with a top speed of Mach 5.1. The vehicle flew for f more than six minutes total.

The test shows how mature the technology is and how it is now at the point where practical applications can be developed, such as advanced defense systems as well as more cost-effective access to space, says Darryl Davis, Boeing Phantom Works president.

A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress that took off from Edwards Air Force Base deployed the X-51A from 50,000 feet above the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea Range. Once released a solid rocket booster accelerated the X-51A to about Mach 4.8 before the booster and a connecting interstage were jettisoned. The vehicle then reached Mach 5.1 powered by its supersonic combustion scramjet engine, which burned all its JP-7 jet fuel. The X-51A then made a controlled dive into the Pacific Ocean at the end of its mission, fulfilling all mission objectives.

This flight was the fourth X-51A test flight that Boeing completed for U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). The X-51A program is a collaborative effort between the AFRL and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Boeing, and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. Boeing engineers performed program management, design, and integration at company facilities in Huntington Beach, Calif.


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