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Unmanned U.S. military hypersonic test flight fails

16th August 2012 | 1.874 Views
Unmanned U.S. military hypersonic test flight fails
X-51A Waverider. (
Washington (ANTARA/Xinhua-OANA) - An experimental unmanned aircraft failed in a hypersonic test flight, and dropped into the Pacific Ocean, the U.S. Air Force said in a statement on Wednesday (August 15).

The aircraft, named X-51A Waverider, failed in its bid to reach a speed of Mach 6, or over 4,567 miles (about 7,350 kilometers) per hour, on Tuesday. The Air Force said Wednesday it successfully separated in midair from a B-52 bomber served as mother ship, and the rocket booster fired as planned.

About 16 seconds into the test flight, a fault was identified with one of the cruiser control fins. Once the X-51A was separated from the rocket booster, it was lost as the cruiser was not able to maintain control due to the faulty control fin.

"It is unfortunate that a problem with this subsystem caused a termination before we could light the scramjet engine," said Charlie Brink, X-51A program manager for Air Force Research Laboratory. The X-51A Waverider is also called a scramjet, short for supersonic combustion ramjet.

The X-51A was designed to fly for 300 seconds, and it was the third attempt by the Air Force at getting an X-51A airframe to go hypersonic. With the experiments, scientists achieved only limited success.

The X-51A gets its Waverider name from an aspect of the aircraft`s expected performance in flight -- once it`s moving fast enough, it surfs its own shockwave.

The U.S. Air Force said the X-51A is a technology demonstrator and not a prototype for any particular weapon system. What it`s intended to demonstrate is the feasibility of futuristic scramjet technology, which could someday lead to hypersonic weapons or reconnaissance vehicles.

The U.S. military has been testing other hypersonic vehicles, one is known as the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW) concept vehicle, but it is used to develop technology for Conventional Prompt Global Strike, a capability that would allow the U.S. side to strike anywhere in the world within an hour using conventional warheads.