Waverider makes hypersonic history


May 3, 2013

U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress from Edwards Air Force Base prepares to release the Boeing X-51A Waverider (Photo: US Air Force)

U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress from Edwards Air Force Base prepares to release the Boeing X-51A Waverider (Photo: US Air Force)

Image Gallery (6 images)

It was fourth time lucky for Boeing’s X-51A Waverider, as it blasted into the history books on Monday. The fourth test of the hypersonic drone achieved the longest scramjet-powered hypersonic flight yet, hitting a top speed of Mach 5.1 (which is 2,924 knots, 3,366 mph and 5,417 km/h using SI standard conversion). Dropped from a B-52H bomber out of Edwards Air Force Base in California, the unmanned craft flew at top speed for three and a half minutes before it made a controlled dive into the Pacific Ocean after six minutes of flight.

This successful test of the Waverider for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory comes eight months after another X-51A went out of control shortly after being released on a test flight due to the faulty deployment of a control fin. On Monday, the fourth Waverider was released from 50,000 feet (15,240 m) over Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea Range at 10:55 AM PDT ( 17:55 GMT). Because the scramjet will only work at hypersonic speeds, a solid rocket booster was used to push Waverider to a speed of Mach 4.8 (2,752 knots, 3,168 mph, 5,098 km/h). After the spent booster was jettisoned, the scramjet was ignited and Waverider reached Mach 5.1, which it remained at until its JP-7 jet fuel was exhausted.

“This demonstration of a practical hypersonic scramjet engine is a historic achievement that has been years in the making,” said Darryl Davis, president, Boeing Phantom Works. “This test proves the technology has matured to the point that it opens the door to practical applications, such as advanced defense systems and more cost-effective access to space.”

The X-51A is designed to test the technology needed to build a hypersonic missile or aircraft. The 25-foot (7.62 m) long vehicle is a combination of of a wingless cruise vehicle powered by a SJY61 supersonic combustion ramjet or “scramjet” engine built by Pratt & Whitney, and a modified Army Tactical Missile. It’s called Waverider because it rides its own shockwave at hypersonic speeds in excess of Mach 5 (2,867 knots, 3,300 mph, 5,310 km/h). The new speed record breaks the previous one set by a previous Waverider vehicle in 2010.

The video below outlines the potential of the scramjet system.

Source: Boeing

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

so in 3.5 minutes it flew almost 200 miles? So NYC -> LA would be 13-14 minutes?? Obviously you would need to take off, land, accelerate... So i am not suggesting we will be traveling at mach 5 any time soon. I would love to know more about the fuel used.

Michael Mantion

@michael 14 minutes is 4 times as long as 3.5 minutes. Are you suggesting that NY--> LA is only four times as far as 200 miles?

Ian Mitko

I hope they continue to develop this technology so we can fly supersonic. For us that travel distances 14 hour flights are grueling, even in business class. The loss of the Concorde was the first time commercial aviation made a step backward. Fast is beautiful, subsonic is for the birds.

Mark A


The B-52 in the first pic is from Edwards? It sure looks like it's carrying the insignia from Barksdale AFB in Louisiana...

C. Walker Walker

re; C. Walker Jr.

Do to budget constraints and shifting priorities NASA returned the B-52H that replaced the retired B-52B 'Balls 8' to the Air Force. Obviously they borrowed a Buff for the test.


The fuel is JP-7. What does it cost to drop it off in the ocean? Tax dollars at work again.

Dan Watt

Tax dollars at work, It was a test shot, for mach 5 . I would bet they did not serve beer nuts and drinks on the bird.

Ronald Leard

@Mark A,

You mention that you hope that we will eventually fly supersonic. However, this technology is Hypersonic. I'm pretty sure there is a difference between supersonic and hypersonic.


Supersonic/hypersonic - either will blow your eardrums with their sonic boom. That's why the SST flight paths were so limited. I wonder what this thing cost to build that they just let it drop into the ocean. No problem when it's not your money I guess... What's the goal here; super fast missiles that con't be shot down?


this project still has a long way to go for imagining i could travel at hypersonic speeds .... the inertial forces , the control of this aircraft is too complicated and requires much work, calculations and simulations before releasing a statement about manned flight at hypersonic speeds ....

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