The X-51A WaveRider successfully flew at six times the speed of sound setting a record for sustained hypersonic flight. The X-51A WaveRider is an experimental unmanned aircraft under the thumb of the USAF and is based out of Edwards AFB according to known records – but the way the government plays shell games with such information who really knows for sure.
A B-52 Stratofortress headed out off the southern coast of California carrying the X-51A WaveRider as its payload. Once a safe location was reached which would present no harm to people or manmade structures, the Stratofortress released the X-51A WaveRider for its first known full test. Once the Stratofrotress was clear, the screamjet engine was remotely accelerated to Mach 6. The flight lasted for 200 seconds before the screamjet engine began slowing down and the test was ended.
Prior to this, the screamjet engine had been tested only so far as to know that it actually fired, but it was not fully known how it would perform in flight. The previous record for a hypersonic scremjet burn was only 12 seconds according to the USAF, meaning this was a huge leap forward. Charlie Brink who is the X-51A project manager stated, “We equate this leap in engine technology as the equivalent to the post-World War II jump from propeller-driven aircraft to jet engines.”
The WaveRider X-51A is not just something to make people say “wow that’s cool”, it is the foundation for the next step in several projects with varying applications which the X-51A WaveRider developers at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Boeing Co. have thinly alluded to in regards to space access, strike applications, commercial transportation, and of course reconnaissance. While commercial transportation regarding passengers is a way off by most accounts – especially at 6x the speed of sound, there are some commercial transport applications it can be invaluable for like transporting human organs for transplants.
Charlie Brink stated that at this time they do not know of any anomalies related to the test flight, but said he is almost sure something will be revealed which needs to be addressed. There are a total of four X-51A WaveRiders currently in existence, and there will be a test flight for each in the very near future although no hard dates have been set for each.
To see video of the flight from the point the B-52 Stratofortress drops the X-51A Waverider, visit this page and be prepared to be wowed.