Wright-Patterson Air Force Base   Right Corner Banner
Join the Air Force

News > X-51A Waverider achieves history in final flight
X-51A makes history
The X-51A Waverider prepares to launch its historic fourth and final flight. The cruiser achieved Mach 5.1 traveling 230 nautical miles in just over six minutes, making this test the longest air-breathing hypersonic flight ever. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bobbi Zapka)
Download HiRes
Related Links
 Boeing video of X-51A fourth flight
Related Factsheets
 X-51A Waverider
X-51A Waverider achieves history in final flight

Posted 5/3/2013   Updated 5/3/2013 Email story   Print story


by Daryl Mayer
88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

5/3/2013 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- The final flight of the X-51A Waverider test program has accomplished a breakthrough in the development of flight reaching Mach 5.1 over the Pacific Ocean on May 1 a little after 10 a.m. Pacific Time.

"It was a full mission success," said Charlie Brink, X-51A program manager for the Air Force Research Laboratory Aerospace Systems Directorate.

The cruiser traveled over 230 nautical miles in just over six minutes over the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea Range. It was the longest of the four X-51A test flights and the longest air-breathing hypersonic flight ever.

"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," Mr. Brink said.

The X-51A took off from the Air Force Test Center at Edwards AFB, Calif., under the wing of a B-52H Stratofortress. It was released at approximately 50,000 feet and accelerated to Mach 4.8 in about 26 seconds powered by a solid rocket booster. After separating from the booster, the cruiser's scramjet engine then lit and accelerated to Mach 5.1 at 60,000 feet.

After exhausting its 240-second fuel supply, the vehicle continued to send back telemetry data until it splashed down into the ocean and was destroyed as designed. All told, 370 seconds of data was collected from the experiment.

"This success is the result of a lot of hard work by an incredible team. The contributions of Boeing, Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne, the 412th Test Wing at Edwards AFB, NASA Dryden and DARPA were all vital," said Mr. Brink.

This was the last of four test vehicles originally conceived when the $300 million technology demonstration program began in 2004. The program objective was to prove the viability of air-breathing, high-speed scramjet propulsion.

The X-51A is unique primarily due to its use of a hydrocarbon fuel in its supersonic combustion ramjet, or Scramjet, engine. Other vehicles have achieved hypersonic - generally defined as speeds above Mach 5 - flight with the use of hydrogen fuel. Without any moving parts, hydrocarbon fuel is injected into the scramjet's combustion chamber where it mixes with the air rushing through the chamber and is ignited in a process likened to lighting a match in a hurricane.

The use of logistically supportable hydrocarbon fuel is widely considered vital for the practical application of hypersonic flight.

As a technology demonstration program, there is no immediate successor to the X-51A program. However, the Air Force will continue hypersonic research and the successes of the X-51A will pay dividends to the High Speed Strike Weapon program currently in its early formation phase with AFRL. 

6/2/2013 10:12:44 AM ET
Curious. Why was an operational B-52 60-0024 substituted for the FTC's 60-0050 for this launch
Wayne Pittman, Beavercreek OH
5/9/2013 2:26:07 PM ET
The contributions of...412th Test Wing at Edwards AFB NASA Dryden and DARPA were all vital I'd like to thank the 30th Range also connecting the dots if they were collecting telemetry data...then that data was recieved by Space Command Tel sites.
TSgt Eckert, Cape Canaveral AFS
5/6/2013 2:49:58 PM ET
Yes but I distinctly remember Pete Knight going a little faster than that when I was at Edwards AFB in 1967 . . . over 4500 mph in a Human-controlled aircraft that he brought back and dead-sticked in for a landing on the lakebed.
george kamburoff, pleasant hill ca
5/6/2013 1:15:26 PM ET
It would be sooo interesting to have one of the X-51's do a Fly-By i.e. buzz the tower over the capital of N Korea. At oh let's say 100 feet from the Deck.Twice.On 2nd fly-by... drop rolls of toilet paper... I can think of a few members of the ruling klass over there that would probably have immediate need of some.
Zen-Tangent, Indiana
5/5/2013 10:47:04 AM ET
What a shame there is no well-defined program plan to immediately kick-in and continue progress that the X-51 Program has demonstrated. This an endemic problem for Hypersonics its progress is so hampered by fits and starts which wastes the talent and knowledge of so many of us who know that the challenging technology will eventually be conducted. The payoffs for both military and commercial applications are so large that Hypersonics should have a much higher priority in our nations technology goals.
David Kors, No. California
5/4/2013 1:48:38 PM ET
Congrats. It is encouraging to see progress - any progress.
egoist, Missouri
5/3/2013 7:51:00 PM ET
The video shows the booster rocket bringing the X-51A up to speed. Hypersonic air-breathing flight according to the article begins after booster separation. It doesn't look like this video shows either booster separation or air-breathing hypersonic flight.
Bruce Perens, Berkeley CA
5/3/2013 7:41:48 PM ET
Faster Daddy faster
Bill, Saturn
5/3/2013 5:43:52 PM ET
Congratulations to the X-51 team This is one more significant step in hypersonic airbreathing propulsion - proof of durable scramjet engine structure and aeropropulsion control. Keep um flyin
Charles R. McClinton, Cape Coral Florida
5/3/2013 5:32:40 PM ET
Um I think you mean 2013 not 2103.Anyway pretty cool that we we're achieving those speeds but what is the ultimate goal of this program Are there any tangible results that can be applied to current day technology
Matt, Katy TX
Add a comment

 Inside WPAFB

ima cornerSearch

Site Map      Contact Us     Questions     USA.gov     Security and Privacy notice     E-publishing  
Suicide Prevention    SAPR   IG   EEO   Accessibility/Section 508   No FEAR Act