Tech

August 18, 2012

Recap: X-51A flight ends prematurely

The X-51A Waverider is mounted under the wing of a B-52 Stratofortress at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in preparation of its Aug. 14, 2012, test flight. On a previous flight, the X-51A flew for more than three minutes at Mach 4.88 under scramjet power.

The X-51A Waverider successfully launched from a B-52 Stratofortress over Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea Range, Calif., Aug. 14, 2012, at approximately 11:36 a.m. PDT.

The X-51 safely separated from the B-52 and the rocket booster fired as planned. However, after 16 seconds, a fault was identified with one of the cruiser control fins. Once the X-51 separated from the rocket booster, approximately 15 seconds later, the cruiser was not able to maintain control due to the faulty control fin and was lost.

“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. “All our data showed we had created the right conditions for engine ignition and we were very hopeful to meet our test objectives.”

The B-52 Stratofortress carrying the X-51A Waverider takes off from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in preparation for the Aug. 14, 2012, test flight. The test ended prematurely when a fault with a control fin caused the vehicle to lose control.

This particular control subsystem had proven reliable in the previous two flights of the X-51A, including the historic May 2010 flight when the Waverider flew for more than three minutes at Mach 4.88 under scramjet power – nearly five times the speed of sound.

Program officials will now begin the process of working through a rigorous evaluation to determine the exact cause of all factors at play.

One of the four X-51A vehicles remains. AFRL officials have not decided when or if that vehicle will fly at this time.

 




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