Hypersonic flight test fails over Pacific

A aircraft built to fly six times the speed of sound plummeted into the Pacific Ocean after being dropped by an adapted B-52bomber in a failed test Tuesday.

The Air Force built the X-51A Waverider to test hypersonic flight, or an aircraft flying more than Mach 5. Air Force officials had hoped the Waverider, which looks like a 25-foot missile, would reach Mach 6, or at least 4,500 miles per hour.

However, the Waverider dropped into the ocean only 15 seconds into its test flight, according to the Air Force. Scientists and engineers had hoped it would fly for 300 seconds. One of the control fins failed causing operators to lose control, the Air Force said in a statement. Investigators will inspect the data collected during the flight and issue a report in about two weeks.

“It is unfortunate that a problem with this subsystem caused a termination before we could light the scramjet engine,” Charlie Brink of the Air Force Research Laboratory at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, said in a statement.

The hypersonic aircraft uses scramjet technology to reach such high speeds meaning it doesn’t have moving parts and uses oxygen in the air opposed to liquid fuel.

This was the program’s last budgeted test. Air Force officials will have to fight for Congressional funding to meet its goal of outfitting an operational aircraft with hypersonic technology by 2016.

Service leaders have said they want to develop the hypersonic capability to either deliver a ballistic missile to anywhere in the world in minutes, or a reconnaissance platform that could fly overhead a special operations team undetectable by radar. No surface-to-air missile defense system is equipped to hit an object moving that fast.

The Waverider program started in 2004 with the military already having spent $140 million on it. The Air Force completed two other tests before Tuesday’s in 2010 and 2011. The 2011 test was also considered a failure. In the 2010 test, the Waverider flew for 143 seconds and reached 3,400 miles per hour.

19 Comments on "Hypersonic flight test fails over Pacific"

  1. Seriously who is in charge of this program? They hyped it up for weeks, only to have it fail for the 3rd time in a row. It might be time to take the program top secret so you can test and fail without so much negative attention. Good on them to keep trying, but they need to get the program out of the public eye until they have it working.

  2. As it looks now, the program began in 2004 and was only tested in an integrated fashion in 2010, 2011 and now 2012.

    I imagine between 2004 and 2010 they did glide testing of the actual shape without the scramjet or fuel just to test the control fins…?

    It's difficult to judge a program on just three runs. The first run was the greatest success. Perhaps it's time to step up the testing regime.

  3. …and JFKs brain is on life support at area 51…

  4. Ricardo Briozzo | August 15, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Reply

    A descendent from Silverbird, the ramjet of Eugen Sänger in Projekt Amerika Bomber?

  5. Question!

    Once we figure out the kinks and stuff will this be launched from a silo? or from jets?

  6. What a disappointment. I always root for anyone out there trying to achieve hypersonic flight. Not only for the sheer excitement of pushing the engineering boundaries, but also because I hate long flights and long for the day when long flights are a thing of the past.

  7. Marcellus Hambrick | August 15, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Reply

    Maybe the Chinese can be brought in as consultants. Chances are they’ve stolen part of the technology already.

  8. Could it be that we have already mastered this tech and these failures are a false flag?

  9. 3 failures in a row – sounds like it's ready for low rate production then.

    They can just bolt on a fix if they work out how hypersonic flight actually works… perhaps a strap on ballistic missile.

    But you just got to laugh and the hastily copied PR…

    >Service leaders have said they want to develop the hypersonic capability to either deliver a ballistic missile to anywhere in the world in minutes, or a reconnaissance platform that could fly overhead a special operations team undetectable by radar. No surface-to-air missile defense system is equipped to hit an object moving that fast.

    – anywhere is minutes ? yep minutes that stretch into hours
    – undetectable by radar – funny it dosent look stealthy to me, and with a heat signature the size of the sun it hardly matters.
    – presumably it would be used mainly in africa because it cant be hit by anyhting except a 1960s era ABM system

  10. Who designed this piece of crap? Oh yeah, it was a nameless, faceless committee, just like the one that designs everything else today. But we won the Cold War, didn't we, comrades?

  11. The US is having rotten luck with hypersonics research. Nothing else left to do but try again and again; this is the future.

  12. I was hoping for some good news on the Hypersonic Aircraft. Looks like all we got was the HYPE. . . If the other guys ever figure out that we really have something that will do what they have said this would have done. Well we will see. . .WINK
    Seems we are saving the other guys lots of money on R&D so they won't have to try developing a system like this that we couldn't shoot down. . .
    Does anyone really believe all this (Creative Research and Public) denial; or CRAP. . .Cheers

  13. Flying hypersonic is not merely going faster than normal, it is an entirely different regime that is characterized by some extremely difficult aerodynamic and thermodynamic problems. The regime is so exotic that it is almost impossible to simulate on the ground in wind tunnels, meaning you must rely on a whole lot of modelling and guesswork until you can get something that actually flies. Even predicting something relatively simple like whether the boundary layer is laminar or turbulent becomes an extremely difficult proposition, and the results can have profound effects on the performance of the vehicle.

    Add onto that the fact that the scramjet is an extremely complex and new design, and its not hard to see why projects like these fail so often.

  14. Those fins look too flimsy for Mach 6. Back to the drawing board.

  15. They should've tested the scramjet with the Air Force's space plane.

    I wonder what the terminal velocity of the Waverider shape would be…

  16. It must be lost in signal during Mack 5 speed flight. It probably need a robotic mind and radar to carry out its pin point targets.

  17. volumex-dv2o-channel-trx-board-ewr-200-vhf-uhf-wideband-reciever-tranciever-update-edit-scan.

  18. So what happened with what we learned in the X-15 program , and the SR-71 , also if i remember those pilots didn't have breathing problems. Sometimes new tech is not better its just new.

  19. Chuck Yeager would have landed it safely :)

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