Boeing, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and the US Air Force Research Laboratory will launch the scramjet powered X-51A WaveRider on May 25 from a B-52 off the coast of southern California.
The WaveRider is expected to fly for five minutes powered by its scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet) motor, accelerating to approximately Mach 6.0 to ride on its own shock wave, transmiting large amounts of data to ground stations before it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean. There are no plans to recover the aircraft, which is expected to break up.
“In those 300 seconds [of flight], we hope to learn more about hypersonic flight with a practical scramjet engine than all previous flight tests combined,” said Charlie Brink, X-51A program manager with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Propulsion Directorate.
The longest previous hypersonic scramjet flight test, performed by a NASA X-43 in 2004, was faster, but lasted only about 10 seconds and used less logistically supportable hydrogen fuel.