Wed, Aug 15, 2012
Hypersonic Flight Was Scheduled For Tuesday Over The Pacific
The U.S. Air Force and DARPA were expected to fly the hypersonic WaveRider X-51 test aircraft over the Pacific ocean Tuesday, part of an an ongoing series of tests for the Mach 6+ aircraft. The flight profile for Tuesday's test was to fly at Mach 6 for about 300 seconds ... or five minutes ... but still about twice as long as has been achieved at that speed in previous tests.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the Pentagon and NASA are funding three national hypersonic flight centers around the country. The technology has been called "the new stealth" by DARPA, in that a hypersonic aircraft should simply outrun enemy missiles or conventionally-powered jet aircraft.
The Air Force says that development of the hypersonic engine powering the WaveRider "opens the door for hypersonic weapons capable of prompt global strike, hypersonic air transport, and may someday lead to more economical access to space." Program officials said the scramjet motor's great advantage is the ability to capture and burn oxygen in the thin atmosphere, rather than having to carry it in a large tank like the space shuttle or other rockets. Not having to carry the oxidizer needed for combustion means more payload capability.
The most recent previous test of the WaveRider in June of last year managed to achieve a speed of just over Mach 5, but did not develop full power. The hypersonic vehicle attempted to restart and oriented itself to optimize engine start conditions, but was unsuccessful. The vehicle continued in a controlled flight orientation until it flew into the ocean within the test range.
(USAF Photo from file)
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