We have been talking about land speed records and what challenges Rolls Royce is facing with it and about UAVs; both commercial and military. How could we sit this one out? Ladies and Gentlemen, it seems we have a new record for the highest air speed as well. After three years of trials which were conducted on ground, we have finally achieved what was once only a dream. The flight, a historic one, lasted almost three and a half minutes and made records which are there to stay, for a while at least. Those who saw the flight witnessed what science and engineering have achieved. They witnessed the power of logic and true brute strength which comes from practice of logic. The Boeing’s X-51A Waverider managed to reach a top speed of Mach 5.1! Despite several test flights which were a failure and questioned the project’s integrity as a whole and had almost jeopardized it, the X-51 emerged victorious once it nailed that Mach 5.1 speed.
The plane is very much capable of flying at hypersonic speeds. Ok, put your science hats on folks, this ride is going to be speedy! For the sake of science behind scramjets, the X-51 was relying on the wings of B-52 and was freed from it once it reached an altitude of 50,000 ft which is roughly 15,240 m. Once freed from B-52 a solid rocket booster (SRB) was engaged to bring the speed up to Mach 4.8. Let’s do a bit of converting; Mach 4.8 means 3,168 Mph. That’s almost three times the highest land speed record which RR is targeting at the moment. Anyhow, once 4.8 Mach was achieved, the scramjets came into play and screamed and roared for about 240 seconds to achieve and maintain mach 5.1. The scramjets stopped once their fuel ended. President of Boeing’s Phantom Works advanced R&D wing, Darryl Davis was pleased with the results and said; ‘this demonstration of a practical hypersonic scramjet engine is a historic achievement that has been years in the making… 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.’ After the successful flight of X-51A, NASA and military, both have expressed their interest in Waveriders technology and seem quite keen in taking it further.
If such success continues, we might soon have aircraft which are capable of flying at much higher speeds than at what they fly right now. This might also help in getting to space in a single stage flight which will no doubt be a big leap forward. However, all this depends if this technology matures. The future sure does look promising; fingers crossed!