X-51A Flight Test Plunges into Pacific

Contributor:  Peter Smith
Posted:  08/16/2012  12:00:00 AM EDT
Rate this Article: (4.6 Stars | 7 Votes)
Tags:   X-51A | Scramjet | Test | Crash

The X-51A Waverider, an experimental aircraft seeking hypersonic flight, crashed into the Pacific Ocean after just seconds of flight due to an apparent control fin failure according to an Air Force statement on Tuesday.

“"It is unfortunate that a problem with this subsystem caused a termination before we could light the Scramjet engine," Charlie Brink, program manager, said in a statement. "All our data showed we had created the right conditions for engine ignition and we were very hopeful to meet our test objectives."

This is the third test flight for the X-51A program. The first powered flight took place in 2010, and successfully propelled the Waverider for 200 seconds at a speed estimated to be around Mach 5. However, consecutive tests have resulted in failure. The second test of the Waverider resulted in the craft being unable to sustain flight for more than a couple of seconds after failing to separate from its booster rocket.

Sustained hypersonic flight would be an unparalleled advancement in aviation, and could lead to exponential increases in aviation speed as opposed to linear growth.  Hypersonic flight has the potential to allow countries to transport payloads, including weapons, around the world in minutes instead of hours.

The Waverider program is a collaboration between the Air Force, NASA, DARPA, Boeing & Co. and Pratt & Whitney. 

Although funding for the program has not been disclosed completely, Globalsecurity.org, a website specializing in documenting military spending, says the project has cost $250-300 million since it began in 2004.

Tuesday’s goal was for the Waverider to sustain flight for 300 seconds and to imitate, if not improve upon, the previous success of the X-51A’s first flight.

According to the Air Force, “One of the four X-51A vehicles remains. AFRL officials have not decided when or if that vehicle will fly at this time.”

Peter Smith Contributor:   Peter Smith

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