Hypersonic history. Image: Life of Riley/Boeing/U.S. Air Force/Wikipedia.
Boeing Phantom Works’ experimental unmanned X-51A aerial vehicle this week hit a record-breaking hypersonic speed of approximately 5,000 mph (Mach 5) during a successful test flight high above southern California.
Released from beneath the wing of a U.S. Air Force B-52H bomber at a height of around 50,000 feet, the craft powered up to Mach 4.5 via an attached U.S. Army solid rocket booster before its own Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne supersonic combustion engine (or scramjet) took it to a sustained Mach 5.
“We are ecstatic to have accomplished many of the X-51A test points during its first hypersonic mission,” enthused Charlie Brink, X-51A program manager with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Ohio’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
“This gives us huge confidence,” he added. “We built four tech vehicles to get a successful flight, and we hit many of our goals right out of the gate, the first time around.”
Ground controllers moved to destroy the hypersonic X-51A when it suddenly began to lose acceleration after amassing almost three and a half minutes of flight time.
Although only a brief test of Boeing’s technology, the craft was able to provide terabytes of telemetry information before its destruction, and Air Force officials are already calling the flight “an unqualified success.”
“This is a new world record and sets the foundation for several hypersonic applications, including access to space, reconnaissance, strike, global reach and commercial transportation,” said Joe Vogel, Boeing’s director of Hypersonics and X-51A program manager.
According to officials, the project team is already pouring over the flight data ahead of scheduling additional airborne tests with the three remaining X-51A vehicles.