A lightning-quick experimental aircraft made history when it sped more than 3,000 mph above the Pacific Ocean in a test flight, reigniting decades-long efforts to develop a vehicle that could travel faster than a speeding bullet.
The Boeing X-51 (also known as X-51 WaveRider) is an unmannedscramjet demonstration aircraft for hypersonic (Mach 6, approximately 4,000 miles per hour (6,400 km/h) at altitude) flight testing. It successfully completed its first powered flight on 26 May 2010 and also achieved the longest duration flight at speeds over Mach 5.
A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress from Edwards Air Force Base
released the X-51A from 50,000 feet above the Point Mugu Naval Air
Warfare Center Sea Range at 10:55 a.m. Pacific time. After the B-52
released the X-51A, a solid rocket booster accelerated the vehicle to
about Mach 4.8 before the booster and a connecting interstage were
jettisoned. The vehicle reached Mach 5.1 powered by its supersonic
combustion scramjet engine, which burned all its JP-7 jet fuel. The
X-51A made a controlled dive into the Pacific Ocean at the conclusion of
its mission. The test fulfilled all mission objectives.
The flight was the fourth X-51A test flight completed for the U.S.
Air Force Research Laboratory. It exceeded the previous record set by
the program in 2010.