The hypersonic X-51A WaveRider has completed its first technical review in a process that will lead to a first flight of almost Mach 6.0 in the fourth quarter of this year, programme officials say.

"We're on our way," says Charles Brink, X-51A programme manager for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

Including the AFRL, Boeing and Pratt & Whitney, the X-51A consortium has already submitted the flight-test plan to the Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) at Edwards AFB, California. Brink says a "successful" meeting was held with the centre's experts on 12 May, with this resulting in follow-up actions.

Boeing and P&W have also recently completed ground tests of a "flight-like" hypersonic engine, the first hydrocarbon-powered system to include a closed-loop heat transfer in the fuel system, says Joseph Vogel, Boeing's X-51A programme manager.

The AFRL has funded the $250 million X-51A programme to demonstrate four test flights starting in late October or early November. Each 300s powered flight is expected to add volumes of data that could be used to design a wide variety of future hypersonic vehicles, such as long-range missiles and spaceships.

X-51A Waverider
 © Boeing

"When we finish flying this mission we'll have probably flown on one mission more time on a hypersonic, hydrocarbon vehicle than all other hydrocarbon-type systems that have ever previously flown," Vogel says.

The X-51A next faces a safety review board at the AFFTC in early June, Brink says. That will be followed about one month later by loading an X-51A on a USAF Boeing B-52H to ensure the electronic systems are compatible. Then, the B-52H will conduct captive carry tests with the X-51.

By around September, the programme plans to conduct a full-scale "dress rehearsal" of the event, including a picket line of aircraft - perhaps US Navy Lockheed P-3C Orions - to relay airborne telemetry data from the vehicle to the USN's flight-test range facility at Point Magu, California.

The first of four flight tests should follow about a month later, Brink says. Each of the next three flight tests should occur in 30-day to 60-day intervals, unless an issue is discovered in flight tests.

Source: Flight International