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Mach 5 and Beyond: X-51 Waverider Hypersonic Missile

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The United States Air Force keeps breaking speed records with its new X-51 Waverider hypersonic missile that travels over 600 miles in 10 minutes. At that speed x-51 Waverider soars at one mile per second. No missile before it accelerated to the speed of Mach 5 (3600 mph). In comparison, current missiles such as the Tomahawk Cruise Missiles fly at a maximum speed of 550 mph. The X-51 Waverider attracts public attention over more than aviation advances. Lt. Gen. C. Robert Kehler, the U.S. Strategic Command’s deputy commander, said that the goal of the X-51 Waverider project is “to strike virtually anywhere on the face of the Earth within 60 minutes.” If completed the X-51 Waverider project will produce the capability of delivering a nuclear warhead anywhere in the world in less than an hour. The X-51 WaveRider project represents a cooperative effort of the United States Air Force, DARPA, NASA, Boeing and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. The X-51 Waverider hypersonic missile program operates under the Propulsion Directorate within the United States Air Force Research Laboratory.

The X-51 Waverider began air testing attached to a B-52 in December 2009. But ground tests date back to testing since 2006. A test version of the X-51 Waverider, known as the “Ground Demonstrator Engine No. 2″, concluded experimental wind tunnel tests at the Langley Research Center on 27 July, 2006. The X-51 Waverider underwent a simulation flight in April 2007 with successful results. Two ground test engines currently in development represent plans to continue testing. Ground testing achieved verification of propulsion between Mach 4 and Mach 6. Four test flights initially planned for 2009 failed to be conducted on schedule. Flight test demonstrated more satisfactory results by 2010 when the X-51 Waverider succeeded in setting a new aviation speed record, traveling at over 3,500 mph. At that speed the X-51 Waverider literally flew faster than a speeding bullet.

Released from the wing of a B-52, the X-51 Waverider flew its first hypersonic flight successfully on 26 May 2010. It accelerated continuously for over 200 seconds and achieved a speed of Mach 5. However the first test fell short of the target 300 second duration. The flight exhibited the longest scramjet burn time ever accomplished at 140 seconds. The X-43 held the previous longest flight burn time of only 12 seconds in comparison, while setting a new speed record of Mach 9.8 (12,144 km/h, 7,546 mph). Plans for three more X-51 Waverider hypersonic missile test flights will implement the same flight trajectory. Boeing proposed that the Air Force Research Laboratory add two test more flights in order to increase the total tests to six with flights at four to six weeks intervals.

Emma Eisenburg, PhD. She had served 7 years as Research Scientist in technology advancement at the MIT. In addition to research, Emma like to turn her crazy ideas into easy-to-read article. Now she is a committee member of a newly founded research group based in United States that helped develop various high technology tools (often of commercial quality for a fraction of the cost).

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