The experimental X-51A Waverider unmanned hypersonic aircraft was carried aloft for the first time under the wing of an NB-52H ‘mothership’ at Edwards AFB in California on December 9.
The captive carry test was a key test point prior to the X-51’s hypersonic flight test ampaign which is due to commence next February.
“After takeoff we climbed to 50,000ft and verified B-52 aircraft performance, handling qualities with the X-51A attached to the B-52, control room displays and software integration with the X-51A,” said LTCOL Daniel Millman, the B-52 project pilot. “The B-52 handled great and the flight proceeded as planned.”
The February test will see the X-51A carried to approximately 50,000ft over the Pacific Ocean then released, at which point a solid rocket booster will ignite and accelerate it to about Mach 4.5. The booster will then be jettisoned and an SJY61 supersonic combustion ramjet propulsion system will ignite and operate for about 300 seconds, propelling the aircraft to more than Mach 6.
The X-51A was designed by Boeing’s Phantom Works and the SJY61 engine is from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. It is funded by the USAF and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.