Fox News on May 9, 2013, reported in detail on Boeing’s X-51A WaveRider — a jet-fueled, air-breathing hypersonic rocket developed for the U.S. Air Force — that went hypersonic during a recent test off the Southern California coast, flying at more than five times the speed of sound. Excerpts below:

A Silver Surfer-style, air-breathing engine defied naysayers with its triumphant recent test reaching Mach 5 — that’s an astonishing mile per second, or nearly 4,000 miles per hour– smashing its own previous time in flight record.

At Edwards Air Force Base on Wednesday, May 1, Boeing’s WaveRider made the longest hypersonic flight to date, flying for three minutes and smashing its own 2010 record. The air-breathing engine that powered the X-51A WaveRider could be key…to travelling coast to coast in under 40 minutes…

The government has high hopes for this type of hypersonic engine, and defense agency DARPA is looking to push the tech further, with plans to invest more than $90 million into the hypersonics programs over the next two years.

One goal is to provide global-range, maneuverable, hypersonic flight at a mind-warping Mach 20. In 2014, DARPA plans to launch the Small Responsive Space Access X-Plane to mature the technology inexpensively, for quick reaction not just anywhere on the globe but also in space.

Often described as a surfboard that rides its own self-created sonic wave, the X-51A Waverider does look sort of like the Silver Surfer’s mode of travel. It’s actually an unmanned scramjet-powered experimental aircraft.

It weighs approximately 4,000 pounds with a fuel capacity about 270 pounds and currently has a ceiling of more than 70,000 feet.

The WaveRider’s engine doesn’t require its own oxygen supply and instead harvests the air as it flies through the atmosphere.

Due to the novel method of combustion, its current take-off doesn’t look like a traditional Cape Canaveral launch. Instead it uses a booster rocket to get to hypersonic speed, before the scramjet takes over and does its stuff.

The fourth test produced a triumph, successfully demonstrating not just the revolutionary engine, but also high temperature materials, airframe and engine integration at hypersonic speeds.

NASA’s experimental unmanned NASA’s X-43A scramjet still holds onto the bragging rights on the speed front, however. It set the world speed record for a jet-powered aircraft — recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records — at Mach 9.6, or nearly 7,000 mph.

WaveGlider’s recent record-setting is important not just for pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, but for further establishing the bedrock of the hypersonic tech of the future.

With air-breathing engines, future space travel could be faster and cheaper, in part due to the potential for reducing the absurdly heavy onboard liquid oxygen weight currently necessary to make that journey from earth to space.

Air-breathing engines could allow for far larger payloads revolutionizing cargo transport to space and between points at home.

On earth, the speed of U.S. Air Force aircraft could be unmatched, and commercial air travel immensely accelerated — making the Concorde look positively prehistoric.

Pratt & Whitney is developing a suite of hypersonic propulsion system technologies that have defense potential well beyond aircraft.

This next stage hypersonic speed could be very useful for time-critical missions, and give the U.S. unprecedented speed in global strike.


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