Tech

April 2, 2014

Recalling a record: X-43A Scramjet set new hypersonic record a decade ago

The second X-43A hypersonic research aircraft and its modified Pegasus booster rocket accelerate into the stratosphere after launch from NASA’s B-52B launch aircraft over the Pacific Ocean on March 27, 2004

On March 27, 2004, NASA’s X-43A shattered existing speed records for aircraft with air-breathing engines when the scramjet-powered vehicle reached a speed of Mach 6.83 (4,900 mph) during a brief flight over the Pacific Ocean. The record speed was more than twice as fast as the SR-71 Blackbird, which could cruise at Mach 3.32 (2,193 mph), and bested even the rocket-powered X-15A-2, which reached Mach 6.7 (4,520 mph) in October 1967.

Perhaps most significant, this was the first time a scramjet engine – a ramjet configuration that allows supersonic airflow through the combustion chamber – was used to accelerate a vehicle in flight.

Having exhausted its small amount of hydrogen fuel, the autonomously operated X-43A, a subscale craft with no onboard crew, performed a series of maneuvers that collected hypersonic aerodynamic data that was telemetered back to a control room at what was then NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center. Finally, the X-43A plummeted into a planned impact zone within the Pacific Missile Test Range. Researchers from both Dryden and NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., eagerly studied this data and compared it with predictive models in the ensuring months.

The flight was part of an ambitious program to advance research in high-speed air-breathing propulsion technologies from laboratory experiments to flight test. The multi-year effort, called Hyper-X, was aimed at conducting flight research in the hypersonic speed regime – above Mach 5, or more than 3,600 mph.

Ground crewman perform final closeout checks on the second X-43A hypersonic research vehicle mounted on its Pegasus booster rocket adapter under the right wing of the NB-52B launch aircraft prior to its record-breaking Mach 7 flight.

Brad Neal served as lead operations engineer for the program at NASA Dryden, recently renamed in honor of former astronaut and flight research pilot Neil A. Armstrong. Now chief engineer at NASA Armstrong, Neal looks back at the Hyper-X achievements with pride.

“It was the first demonstration of an integrated scramjet in atmospheric flight,” he recalled. “Nothing like that had ever been attempted before.”

An earlier flight in June 2001 was cut short due to a malfunction of the booster rocket used to propel the craft to scramjet ignition speeds. Following the successful second flight, a third and final test of the X-43A on November 16, 2004, achieved a new record speed of Mach 9.68 (6,600 mph).

Joel Sitz, currently Deputy Associate Director for Programs at NASA Armstrong, managed flight-testing of the X-43A from July 1998 to December 2004.

“The successful Hyper-X flights were the aeronautical equivalent of landing on the moon,” he said. “We had to overcome tremendous technical and operational challenges.”

Hyper-X personnel in a control room await the launch of the X-43A. Front row from left: Randy Voland, LaRC Propulsion; Craig Christy, Boeing Systems; Dave Reubush, NASA Hyper-X Deputy Program Manager; and Vince Rausch, NASA Hyper-X Program Manager.

Sitz believes the Hyper-X accomplishments have opened up the hypersonic frontier.

“Scramjets have now been proven to work and turbine technology is maturing with materials designed to withstand temperatures at Mach 4, the transition region for converting to ramjet or scramjet propulsion through Mach 10 and beyond,” Sitz noted. A turbine-based, combined-cycle propulsion system could be used to power an aerospace vehicle capable of taking off and landing on a conventional runway, potentially lowering launch costs while increasing mission flexibility. Developing and testing such a system would be a significant scientific and engineering challenge.

“We need to integrate all these propulsion cycles and see what can be discovered,” he concluded.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines August 18, 2014

News: U.S. mission in Iraq could expand, Pentagon official says - The mission for U.S. troops in Iraq to help Kurdish and Iraqi security forces in their fight against Islamic militants remains limited for now, but may expand after Iraqi leaders form a new government, a Pentagon spokesman said Aug. 19.   Business: Fuel deals top...
 
 

News Briefs August 20, 2014

Trials complete on fourth Coast Guard cutter Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., has completed acceptance sea trials for the company’s fourth U.S. Coast Guard national security cutter, Hamilton. Jim French, Ingalls’ NSC program manager, tells The Mississippi Press) the Hamilton is scheduled to be delivered next month and commissioned on Dec. 6 in Charleston, South...
 
 
Army photograph by Sgt. Thomas Duval

Air Force, Army Aviation come together to complete vital mission in Egypt

Army photograph by Sgt. Thomas Duval Soldiers and airmen load a UH-60 Black Hawk into an Air Force C17 Globemaster III Aug. 19, 2104, at an old Israeli airstrip in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. The airstrip is now used by the M...
 

 
Air Force photograph by TSgt. Terri Praden

Joint effort validates ability to move Stryker vehicles via air

Air Force photograph by TSgt. Terri Praden An Army Stryker combat vehicle is guided into a C-17 Globemaster III during a 25th Infantry Division training exercise Aug. 13, 2014, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. The Str...
 
 
NASA image

Ozone-depleting compound persists, NASA research shows

NASA image Satellites observed the largest ozone hole over Antarctica in 2006. Purple and blue represent areas of low ozone concentrations in the atmosphere; yellow and red are areas of higher concentrations. NASA research show...
 
 

F-16V completes major capability milestone

The newest configuration of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the F-16V, has reached a major capability milestone with the integration of a new Active Electronically Scanned Array radar. Completing this milestone on schedule demonstrates our ability to meet program commitments, said Roderick McLean, vice president and general manager of the F-16/F-22 Integrated Fighter Group at Lockheed...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>