Experimental Air Force Craft Breaks Speed Time Records

05.28.10 |

It's faster than a speeding bullet and shaped like a souped-up surfboard. Boeing's new X-51A WaveRider shot into aviation history yesterday with the longest supersonic flight yet for a combustion jet engine. Chicago-based Boeing built the WaveRider for the Air Force at its Phantom Works research center in Long Beach, California. The Air Force took the unmanned craft out for a spin off the Southern California coast at 10 a.m. Pacific time Thursday. It was launched at 50-thousand feet from a B-52 out of Edwards Air Force Base. The WaveRider reached an altitude of 70-thousand feet and spent nearly three-and-a-half minutes at Mach 5. It ended its flight in the Pacific Ocean, as planned.

 The engine, built by Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, ignited on a combination of ordinary ethylene and jet fuel. The engine, which has almost no moving parts, then switched over to just jet fuel. The Air Force declared it an unqualified success even before analyzing the terabyte of telemetry data transmitted during the flight. Independent military analysts say the Pentagon is likely trying to develop a rocket that can strike anywhere on earth in under an hour.