Experimental X-51 WaveRider aircraft’s flight was ‘less than successful,’ Air Force says


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The U.S. Air Force had its latest attempt at fine-tuning hypersonic scramjet engine technology this week when its experimental X-51 WaveRider was launched in the Point Mugu Naval Air Test Range over the Pacific Ocean.

The results for the unmanned aircraft were ‘less than successful,’ according to the Air Force.


A story in Thursday’s Times explains what happened:

In the test that took place Monday, a B-52 took off from Edwards Air Force Base and flew to 50,000 feet near Point Mugu. Once there, the B-52 dropped the aircraft and it fell like a bomb for about four seconds before its booster rocket engine ignited and propelled the aircraft. It was then supposed to separate from the rocket and speed across the sky, powered by an air-breathing combustion engine, but that didn’t happen.

After the rocket engine seperated, just 9 seconds later a lapse in airflow to the jet engine caused a shutdown and the X-51 plunged into the ocean as planned.

The Air Force said that ‘engineers captured a large amount of telemetry data during the test flight to identify the cause of the anomaly.’

The X-51 was developed by engineers at Boeing Co. in Huntington Beach and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in Canoga Park.

They thought they were closer to perfecting the technology in May 2010 when the X-51 made its first flight for 2 minutes.


The aircraft’s second test flight was originally slated to take place in March, but it was delayed. The X-51’s next flight is tentatively scheduled for the fall, the Air Force said.


Air Force to retest X-51 WaveRider hypersonic aircraft near Point Mugu

Hypersonic aircraft shatters aviation records

-- W.J. Hennigan