The sleek X-51A WaveRider managed to achieve a top speed of Mach 5 at an altitude of 70,000 feet during a recent test flight by the US Air Force.
According to Boeing, the three and a half minute jaunt marked the longest supersonic combustion ramjet-powered flight in history.
“The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was released from a US Air Force B-52H bomber off the southern California coast. The X-51A’s engine ignited on a mix of ethylene and JP-7 jet fuel…[and then] ran exclusively on JP-7 jet fuel,” the defense company confirmed in an official statement.
“It flew autonomously for more than 200 seconds, powered by its Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne supersonic combustion ramjet (scramjet) motor. Something then occurred that caused the vehicle to lose acceleration. At that point, the X-51A was terminated as planned.”
However, onboard sensors transmitted data to both an airborne US Navy P-3 Orion and ground systems at Point Mugu, Edwards and Vandenberg Air Force Base before crashing into the ocean.
“Even before analyzing the terabytes of telemetry data transmitted by the X-51A during flight, Air Force officials called the test an unqualified success,” explained Joe Vogel, Boeing director of Hypersonics and X-51A program manager.
“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.”
The X-51A program is a collaborative effort of the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), with industry partners Boeing and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne.