Experimental scramjet test aircraft completes 1st test flight, hits Mach 6

Boeing’s X-51a Waverider test aircraft flew its 1st test flight yesterday morning, May 25, off the coast of California. The Waverider is an engine-test platform housing a scramjet, a type of engine that produces massive thrust. On this flight, the Waverider hit a top speed of Mach 6 and flew on its own for 200 seconds (an achievement in its own right.) The story on the USAF site gives a bit more detail on the flight.

According to the story, the test flight was performed at 50,000 feet. At that altitude, Mach 6 comes to about 3960 mph, a speed that would make a flight from San Diego, CA to Washington, DC in roughly 40 minutes. If the Waverider were capable of carrying the fuel and maintaining its control, it could fly around the world in about 6 hours and 15 minutes. Or, put another way, if she could carry the fuel for the trip, there’s nowhere on Earth she can’t reach in about 3 hours from launch.

I can’t imagine what her sonic boom sounds like.

This is really a major step in propulsion. Being able to accelerate something in this fashion opens up all manner of access to space that wouldn’t require the kinds of rockets we use today. The ability to get cameras and sensors over an area quickly can really assist during emergencies like earthquakes, tsunamis, and the like. If you can see what’s going on in near real time your response is going to be that much better. I’ll keep my ears open for more on this and I’ll pass along what I hear.