The Boeing X-51A WaveRider unmanned hypersonic vehicle team accepted the Air Force Association’s highest honor, the John R. Alison award, on Sept. 18 during the Air Force Association Anniversary dinner in National Harbor, Md. Named after the legendary World War II combat pilot, the award recognizes “the most outstanding contribution by industrial leadership to national defense.”
“Being recognized by the Air Force Association is a tremendous honor for Boeing,” said Phantom Works President Darryl Davis. “We’re extremely proud of the X-51A WaveRider team for their perseverance in the face of technical challenges and their commitment to advancing hypersonic technology. Their contributions have paved the way for practical applications of hypersonic technologies across the aerospace portfolio.”
The Air Force Research Laboratory, Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne worked together to complete four flight tests, culminating in the longest air-breathing, scramjet-powered flight in history on May 1, 2013.
With the X-51A firmly tucked under its wing on a warm, clear day, a U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress swung into position and roared down Runway 4 at Edwards Air Force Base and took off toward the Pacific Ocean. At nearly 50,000 feet, the B-52 released the X-51A over the sea range at Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center. Once released, the solid rocket booster from a U.S. Army tactical missile accelerated the X-51A to about Mach 4.8 before the booster and a connecting interstage were jettisoned. From that point, the X-51A supersonic combustion scramjet engine took over and pushed the vehicle to hypersonic speeds of Mach 5.1, traveling more than a mile a second and burning all of its JP-7 jet fuel.
After more than three and a half minutes of powered flight with the air-breathing scramjet engine as planned, the X-51A made a controlled dive into the Pacific Ocean, ending the six-minute test but providing Boeing, the Air Force and Aerojet Rocketdyne with plenty of information to study regarding hypersonic flight.
“There was a lot of anticipation on each of the missions,” said Joseph Vogel, director, Airborne Space Access and Boeing X-51A program manager. “It was a tremendous team accomplishment to make the fuel transition and see acceleration all the way to the end of the mission.”
Vogel and the team had two main objectives for the flight: fly the X-51A at the hypersonic speed of Mach 5 and study advanced combustion chamber fuel staging.
“There is a lot of learning that can be leveraged by the U.S. government, industry and academia for years to come from this mission and previous missions,” said Vogel. “It’s just the beginning of a new era of air travel.”
The X-51A program is a collaborative effort of the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, with industry partners Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne. Boeing performed program management, design and integration in Huntington Beach, Calif.