X-51A Hypersonic Vehicle Set for Flights at End of May

X-51 Waverider

Scramjet with stamina ready for hypersonic test
NewScientist

In the last week of May, thousands of square miles of airspace above the Pacific Ocean will be cleared to make way for a skinny, shark-nosed aircraft called the X-51.

The 4-metre-long prototype will drop from beneath the wing of a bomber and attempt to become the first scramjet to punch through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds for minutes, not seconds.


Like an airliner’s jet engines, supersonic combustion ramjets – or scramjets – work by compressing air enough to ignite fuel which drives air out of the back of the engine to provide thrust. It is designed to work at hypersonic speeds – above about 5 times the speed of sound.

A handful of experimental scramjets have flown successfully, reaching speeds as high as Mach 10, but not for long. “No one has successfully flown a vehicle of this nature for more than a few seconds,” says Joe Vogel, X-51 programme manager at Boeing. “Our goal is about 300 seconds of powered flight.”

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