Air Force's Experimental Scramjet Hits Mach 5


The final flight of the X-51A Waverider test program saw the scramjet aircraft reach Mach 5.1 over the Pacific Ocean, the U.S. Air Force said Friday.

The unmanned hypersonic researcher craft traveled more than 230 nautical miles in just over 6 minutes Wednesday over the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea Range off California before crashing into the ocean as intended, an Air Force release said.

The X-51A took off from Edwards Air Force Base in California under the wing of a B-52H Stratofortress before being released at about 50,000 feet.

A solid rocket booster took the X-51A to about Mach 4.8 at which point the craft's scramjet engine ignited and accelerated it to Mach 5.1 -- about 3,880 miles per hour -- at 60,000 feet.

Scramjet stands for supersonic combustion ram jet, which has no moving parts; fuel is mixed with air rushing into the combustion chamber at supersonic speeds and then ignited.

"It was a full mission success," Charlie Brink, X-51A program manager for the Air Force Research Laboratory, said in a statement. "I believe all we have learned from the X-51A Waverider will serve as the bedrock for future hypersonics research and ultimately the practical application of hypersonic flight."

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