The Air Force tested the third of four X-51A Waverider aircraft on August 14, but the aircraft crashed into the ocean before the test was completed. The unmanned aircraft designed by Boeing was supposed to reach hypersonic speeds after being dropped by a B-52 bomber, but due to a faulty control fin, the scramjet engine didn’t fire.
The Waverider is a long, thin craft with a flat nose that looks like something right out of science fiction. It’s dropped from the bomber and then should have flown for 300 seconds, before crashing into the ocean. Essentially, the purpose of the test was to see if the Scramjet engine would perform as expected, however it didn’t even get the opportunity to ignite.
In May of 2010, during another test flight, the Waverider flew over 3500 mph for 143 seconds, before the test was shut down early due to malfunction. In June of 2011, they tested it again, but still the scramjet engine failed to ignite. At the time, Charlie Brink, USAF Research Laboratory’s X-51A program manager, said they were “disappointed,” but “pleased with the data collected.” The Air Force is not commenting on the latest test until after they have analyzed what went wrong.
The scramjet engine is designed to ride its own shockwave after hitting Mach 5, allowing the craft to go faster (theoretically up to Mach 15) and even ascend to the edge of space, where the atmosphere is the thinnest. Boeing built four of these crafts for the Air Force and it is unclear if the fourth one will be tested, but if so it won’t be for some time. If this technology were applied commercially, a hypersonic flight could make the trip from New York City to London in less than an hour.
Photo courtesy Boeing
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