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WaveRider flight breaks scramjet record

written by australianaviation.com.au | May 27, 2010
photo - USAF
photo - USAF

Boeing’s X-51A WaveRider broke the record for the longest scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet) powered flight in history after it sustained flight for nearly three and a half minutes at a top speed of Mach 5 on May 26.

The unmanned WaveRider was released from a US Air Force B-52H (pictured) off the coast of southern California at approximately 1000 local time on May 26. It was released at about 50,000ft, then was accelerated to Mach 4.5 by a US Army tactical missile which was then jettisoned and the X-51’s Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne scramjet ignited on a mix of ethylene and JP-7 jef fuel, flying for more than 200 seconds reaching approximately 70,000ft and Mach 5. The aircraft transmitted telemetry data to ground stations at Edwards and Vandenberg AFBs and Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center and a US Navy P-3 Orion before “Something then occurred that caused the vehicle to lose acceleration,” according to a Boeing statement. “At that point, the X-51A was terminated as planned.”

“The technology proven today is something the Boeing Company has worked on for the past seven years,” said Alex Lopez, vice president of Advanced Network & Space Systems, a division of Boeing Phantom Works. “It is thrilling to be a part of history and advance hypersonic science to the next level. Boeing is looking forward to transitioning the technology to operation in the near term, but for now, we are exhilarated.”

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The data from the WaveRider is expected to give engineers from Boeing and the US Air Force Laboratory greater insight into hypersonics, which could have applications for space, reconnaissance, strike, strategic lift and commercial transport.

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