TECH

Scramjet, X-51A WaveRider, Reaches Hypersonic Speed In US Military Test Flight To Develop Super-Missiles

06/05/2013 11:38 BST | Updated 07/05/2013 16:19 BST

The American military has successfully tested a 'scramjet' powered aircraft that reached the insane hypersonic speed of Mach 5.1 (4828 kmh).

Unnervingly, the experimental technology is part of £193 million project to develop missiles capable of hitting anywhere in the world within an hour.

The X-51A WaveRider was taxied under the wing of a B-52H Stratofortress and released at an altitude of 15,000 metres.

waverider hypersonic

An artists impression of the scramjet in flight

Initially powered by a by a solid rocket booster it hit Mach 4.8 in a mind-blowing 26 seconds before reaching its top speed.

The craft travelled 230 miles in little over six minutes.

It came to a rather ignominious end crashing into the pacific as planned.

"It was a full mission success," Charlie Brink, X-51A program manager for the Air Force Research Laboratory Aerospace Systems Directorate, said in a statement.

A scramjet compresses incoming air entering the nose at very high speeds and mixes it with fuel which combusts and powers it forward.

As there are no mechanical compressors a scramjet has to be travelling at near-hypersonic speeds to work.

The theory and concept is relatively simple but achieving a successful scramjet flight is very technically challenging because of the high speeds and temperatures generated.

Last week's flight was the fourth and last in a series of tests. The first was successful but the other two failed.

Brink said: "I believe all we have learned from the X-51A Waverider will serve as the bedrock for future hypersonic research and ultimately the practical application of hypersonic flight."