X-51 Waverider
Artist's concept of X-51A during flight
Role Robotic technology demonstrator, hypersonic test aircraft
National origin United States
Manufacturer Boeing
First flight 26 May 2010
Retired 2013[citation needed]
Status Retired[citation needed]
Primary user United States Air Force
Number built 4[1]

The Boeing X-51 Waverider is an unmanned research scramjet experimental aircraft for hypersonic flight at Mach 5 (3,300 mph; 5,300 km/h) and an altitude of 70,000 feet (21,000 m). The aircraft was designated X-51 in 2005. It completed its first powered hypersonic flight on 26 May 2010. After two unsuccessful test flights, the X-51 completed a flight of over six minutes and reached speeds of over Mach 5 for 210 seconds on 1 May 2013 for the longest duration powered hypersonic flight.

Waverider refers in general to aircraft that take advantage of compression lift produced by their own shock waves. The X-51 program was a cooperative effort by the United States Air Force, DARPA, NASA, Boeing, and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. The program was managed by the Aerospace Systems Directorate within the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).[2][3]

Design and development

In the 1990s, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) began the HyTECH program for hypersonic propulsion. Pratt & Whitney received a contract from the AFRL to develop a hydrocarbon-fueled scramjet engine which led to the development of the SJX61 engine. The SJX61 engine was originally meant for the NASA X-43C, which was eventually canceled. The engine was applied to the AFRL's Scramjet Engine Demonstrator program in late 2003.[4] The scramjet flight test vehicle was designated X-51 on 27 September 2005.[5]

X-51A under the wing of a B-52 at Edwards Air Force Base, July 2009

In flight demonstrations, the X-51 is carried by a B-52 to an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15 km; 9.5 mi) and then released over the Pacific Ocean.[6] The X-51 is initially propelled by an MGM-140 ATACMS solid rocket booster to approximately Mach 4.5 (3,000 mph; 4,800 km/h). The booster is then jettisoned and the vehicle's Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne SJY61 scramjet accelerates it to a top flight speed near Mach 6 (4,000 mph; 6,400 km/h).[7][8] The X-51 uses JP-7 fuel for the SJY61 scramjet, carrying 270 lb (120 kg) on board.[1]

Applications for hypersonic technology

DARPA once viewed X-51 as a stepping stone to Blackswift,[9] a planned hypersonic demonstrator which was canceled in October 2008.[10]

In May 2013, the U.S. Air Force planned to apply X-51 technology to the High Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW), a missile similar in size to the X-51. The HSSW was expected to fly in 2020 and enter service in the mid-2020s. It was to have a range of 500–600 nautical miles (930–1,110 km), fly at Mach 5–6, and fit on an F-35 or in the internal bay of a B-2 bomber.[11]


The SJX61-2 engine successfully completes ground tests simulating Mach 5 flight conditions.

Ground and unpowered testing

Ground tests of the X-51A began in late 2005.[citation needed] A preliminary version of the X-51, the "Ground Demonstrator Engine No. 2", completed wind tunnel tests at the NASA Langley Research Center on 27 July 2006.[12] Testing continued there until a simulated X-51 flight at Mach 5 was successfully completed on 30 April 2007.[13][14] The testing is intended to observe acceleration between Mach 4 and Mach 6 and to demonstrate that hypersonic thrust "isn't just luck".[15][16] Four captive test flights were initially planned for 2009. However, the first captive flight of the X-51A on a B-52 was conducted on 9 December 2009,[17][18] with further flights in early 2010.[19][20]

Powered flight testing

The first powered flight of the X-51 was planned for 25 May 2010, but the presence of a cargo ship traveling through a portion of the Naval Air Station Point Mugu Sea Range caused a 24-hour delay.[21] The X-51 completed its first powered flight successfully on 26 May 2010. It reached a speed of Mach 5 (3,300 mph; 5,300 km/h), an altitude of 70,000 feet (21,000 m) and flew for over 200 seconds; it did not meet the planned 300 second flight duration, however.[22][23] The test had the longest hypersonic flight time of 140 seconds while under its scramjet power.[23] The X-43 had the previous longest flight burn time of 12 seconds,[23][24][25] while setting a new speed record of Mach 9.68.

Three more test flights were planned and used the same flight trajectory.[25] Boeing proposed to the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) that two test flights be added to increase the total to six, with flights taking place at four to six week intervals, provided there are no failures.[26]

The second test flight was initially scheduled for 24 March 2011,[27] but was not conducted due to unfavorable test conditions.[28] The flight took place on 13 June 2011. However, the flight over the Pacific Ocean ended early due to an inlet unstart event after being boosted to Mach 5 speed. The flight data from the test was being investigated.[29] A B-52 released the X-51 at an approximate altitude of 50,000 feet (15,000 m). The X-51's scramjet engine lit on ethylene, but did not properly transition to JP-7 fuel operation.[30]

The third test flight took place on 14 August 2012.[31] The X-51 was to make a 300-second (5 minutes) experimental flight at speeds of Mach 5 (3,300 mph; 5,300 km/h).[32] After separating from its rocket booster, the craft lost control and crashed into the Pacific.[33] The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) determined the problem was the X-51's upper right aerodynamic fin unlocked during flight and became uncontrollable; all four fins are needed for aerodynamic control. The aircraft lost control before the scramjet engine could ignite.[34][35]

On 1 May 2013, the X-51 performed its first fully successful flight test on its fourth test flight. The X-51 and booster detached from a B-52H and was powered to Mach 4.8 (3,200 mph; 5,100 km/h) by the booster rocket. It then separated cleanly from the booster and ignited its own engine. The test aircraft then accelerated to Mach 5.1 (3,400 mph; 5,400 km/h) and flew for 210 seconds until running out of fuel and plunging into the Pacific Ocean off Point Mugu for over six minutes of total flight time; this test was the longest air-breathing hypersonic flight. Researchers collected telemetry data for 370 seconds of flight. The test signified the completion of the program.[36][37][38] The Air Force Research Laboratory believes the successful flight will serve as research for practical applications of hypersonic flight, such as a missile, reconnaissance, transport, and air-breathing first stage for a space system.[39]


Data from Boeing,[40] Air Force[1]


See also


  1. ^ a b c "Factsheets: X-51A Waverider". U.S. Air Force. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  2. ^ "Successful Design Review and Engine Test Bring Boeing X-51A Closer to Flight". Boeing. 1 June 2007. Archived from the original on 11 June 2008.
  3. ^ "New AFRL Aerospace Systems Directorate takes shape". USAF. 27 June 2012. Archived from the original on 2013-03-09.
  4. ^ Warwick, Graham. "X-51A to demonstrate first practical scramjet" Archived February 8, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. Flight International, 20 July 2007.
  5. ^ "Propulsion Directorate Monthly Accomplishment Report" (PDF). U.S. Air Force. September 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 December 2006.
  6. ^ "WaveRider makes first flight". Air Force Times. 21 December 2009. Archived from the original on 1 January 2013. Retrieved 22 December 2009.
  7. ^ "Successful Design Review and Engine Test Bring Boeing X-51A Closer to Flight" Archived June 11, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Boeing, 1 June 2007. Retrieved: 28 July 2008.
  8. ^ "X-51A Waverider flight planned for May 25" Archived October 20, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. US Air Force, 20 May 2010. Retrieved: 20 May 2010.
  9. ^ Berger, Brian."NASA Helping U.S. Air Force Gear Up for 2009 X-51 Flights" Archived June 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. Space.com, 8 September 2008.
  10. ^ Trimble, Stephen. "DARPA cancels Blackswift hypersonic test bed" Archived May 20, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Flight Global, 13 October 2008.
  11. ^ Norris, Guy (20 May 2013). "High-Speed Strike Weapon To Build On X-51 Flight". Aviation Week & Space Technology.
  12. ^ "Completes Mach 5 Testing Of Hypersonic Propulsion System". Space daily. Retrieved 28 July 2008.
  13. ^ "Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne's Revolutionary Scramjet Engine Successfully Powers First X-51A Simulated Flight" Archived March 19, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, 30 April 2007.
  14. ^ "AIAA HyTASP Program Committee Inaugural Newsletter" Archived July 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. AIAA, April 2008.
  15. ^ Coppinger, Rob. "Hypersonic X-51A gets December launch date Archived August 9, 2009, at the Wayback Machine". Flight Global, 6 August 2009. Retrieved: 29 April 2010.
  16. ^ "Hypersonic Test Flight On Track"[permanent dead link]. Aviation Week, 5 August 2009. [dead link]
  17. ^ "X-51A WaveRider gets first ride aboard B-52" Archived June 7, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Edwards AFB News, 11 December 2009.
  18. ^ "X-51A WaveRider Gets First Ride Aboard B-52". Space travel. 18 December 2009.
  19. ^ "X-51 getting ready for first flight" Archived March 8, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. USAF Edwards AFB News, 4 March 2010.
  20. ^ "X-51A flight planned May 25" Archived May 25, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. US Air Force, 20 May 2010.
  21. ^ "Shipping traffic delays X-51A launch". USAF. 26 May 2010. Archived from the original on 8 June 2010.
  22. ^ Warwick, Graham (26 May 2010). "First X-51A Hypersonic Flight Deemed Success". Aviation Week.[dead link]
  23. ^ a b c Croft, John (27 May 2010). "X-51A Waverider reaches Mach 5 in 140s scramjet flight". Flight International. Flight global.
  24. ^ "Boeing X-51A WaveRider Breaks Record in 1st Flight". Boeing (Press release). 26 May 2010.
  25. ^ a b "X-51 Waverider makes historic hypersonic flight". US Air Force. 26 May 2010. Archived from the original on 2016-04-10.
  26. ^ Trimble, Stephen (31 March 2009). "X-51A flight may lead to B version". Flight International: 9.
  27. ^ Hennigan, W.J., "Retest Is Set For Hypersonic Craft", Los Angeles Times, 24 March 2011, p. B2.
  28. ^ Croft, John. "Air Force launches mission, opts not to drop X-51A" Archived March 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Flight International, 25 March 2011.
  29. ^ "Second X-51 hypersonic flight ends prematurely". Flight International. Flightglobal. 15 June 2011.
  30. ^ Mehuron, Tamar A (August 2011). "Air Force World, Second X-51 Test Cut Short" (PDF). Air Force Magazine. 94 (8): 17. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
  31. ^ Shachtman, Noah (August 2012). "It's do or die for Mach 5 Missile". Danger Room. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  32. ^ "Hypersonic plane fly New York–Los Angeles in an hour". NY daily news.
  33. ^ Weinberger, Sharon (15 August 2012). "X-51 Waverider: Hypersonic jet ambitions fall short". BBC. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  34. ^ Majumdar, Dave (15 August 2012). "X-51A Waverider test flight ends in failure". Flight International. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  35. ^ "August failure of Boeing X-51 likely due to fin, resonance" Archived October 14, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. Flightglobal.com, 25 October 2012.
  36. ^ "Boeing X-51A WaveRider Sets Record with Successful 4th Flight" Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. Boeing, 3 May 2013.
  37. ^ "Hypersonic X-51 programme ends in success" Archived October 11, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. Flight International, 3 May 2013.
  38. ^ "X-51A Waverider Achieves Hypersonic Goal On Final Flight" Archived April 12, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. Aviation Week, 2 May 2013.
  39. ^ "High-Speed Strike Weapon To Build On X-51 Flight" Archived January 4, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. Aviation Week, 20 May 2013.
  40. ^ "X-51A Waverider Backgrounder" Archived September 6, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. Boeing, September 2012.