Boeing X-51A WaveRider Makes Longest Hypersonic Flight to Date

Boeing's X-51A Waverider has successfully completed the longest-duration test flight to date, reaching speeds of Mach 5.1. Photo Credit: USAF
Boeing’s X-51A Waverider has successfully completed the longest-duration test flight to date, reaching speeds of Mach 5.1. Photo Credit: USAF

Boeing’s X-51A Waverider unmanned hypersonic test vehicle completed the longest air-breathing, scramjet-powered flight to date under the program. This flight was conducted at Edwards Air Force Base in California on May 1. The flight lasted some three and a half minutes and reached a top speed of Mach 5.1. All total, the vehicle flew for six minutes.

“This demonstration of a practical hypersonic scramjet engine is a historic achievement that has been years in the making,” said President of Boeing’s Phantom Works Darryl Davis. “This test proves the technology has matured to the point that it opens the door to practical applications, such as advanced defense systems and more cost-effective access to space.”

The Waverider X-51A was carried aloft by a U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress above the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea Range at 10:55 a.m. PST, to an altitude of 50,000 feet.  After it was released, a solid rocket booster (SRB) accelerated to a speed of Mach 4.8, at which time the SRB and an interstage assembly were jettisoned.


Video courtesy of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne

X-51A then achieved the remaining speeds powered by its supersonic combustion scramjet engine. This engine utilized all of its JP-7 jet fuel. After this period, it plummeted into the Pacific Ocean. Boeing has stated that all of the flight’s objectives were completed.

The May 1 flight is the fourth conducted by the X-51A. It was flown for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.

Boeing’s X-51A Waverider is a demonstration spacecraft designed for hypersonic flight (Mach 6—about 4,000 miles per hour or 6,400 kilometers per hour). The X-51A conducted its first captive flight in 2009; its first powered flight came the following year. The craft was named Waverider due to the fact that it rides a shockwave to provide added lift.


Video courtesy of Boeing

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  1. This is the sort of technology that will revolutionize space access. Why doesn’t a commercial company latch-on to this technology rather than trying to do better the same-old-stuff?

    • Jim, 2 things:

      1. I so much LOVE reading your comments. They are so spot on!
      2. R&D in trully revolutioning space technology can only be made through government paths. Private firms can’t afford to do that, because it will probably not bring them the immediate profit which they need to keep on existing, or they’ll go bankrupt. The commercial sector can only tap on proven technology, to try and make a profit, hence the rise of ‘Commercial Crew’ et al. They don’t have to go to undiscovered countries, someone else has paved the way, proved the concept and the private sector can come in and monetise it.

      It’s all perfectly normal and much needed anyway. But the notion that private firms alone can lead a revolutionary path in space where noone else has gone before and take us to the stars, is a dillusional type of thinking, one of many that persist in the minds of many space advocates.

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