Without a clue as to where they got the information, and going on their reputation alone, this morning we posted that Wired tweeted the closely-watched X-51A test yesterday was a failure.
Robert Beckhusen and Noah Schactman at Danger Room followed that tweet up with a post of their own confirming that “an insider familiar with the test” told them the X-51 Waverider had a problem with one of its fins that caused the craft to lose control before its new scramjet engine could even fire up.
Here’s the original tweet:
Bad news for the USAF’s mach 5 missile. X-51A failed its flight test; a fin problem caused a loss of control b4 the engine could kick in.
The X-51A was slated to hit 4,000 mph and rip through the sky for a full 300 seconds Tuesday, and this is the second failure of the craft in two years.
The following is the text we wrote on Monday about the X-51 and Tuesday’s test:
When DARPA, the Air Force, NASA, Boeing, and Pratt & Whitney combine talent and energy on a project you can be sure the outcome will be profound—ideally anyway.
The five companies are hoping that’s the case in tomorrow’s test flight of the X-51 Waverider, an unmanned hypersonic scramjet that will tear through the sky at 4,000 miles per hour.
Though this test will see the X-51 dropped from beneath the wing of a B-52 at 50,000 feet over the Pacific, experts hope the technology could revolutionise air travel on everything from to missiles, to manned aircraft.
The scramjet is supposed to be like comparing today’s jet turbines to propeller driven aircraft, and is seen by many as the next evolutionary step in human flight.
W.J. Hennigan from the Los Angeles Times reports talking to Robert A. Mercier, deputy for technology in the high speed systems division at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio who says: “Since the Wright brothers, we have examined how to make aircraft better and faster. Hypersonic flight is one of those areas that is a potential frontier for aeronautics. I believe we’re standing in the door waiting to go into that arena.”
Scramjet technology forces combustion to occur when airflow surpasses the speed of sound and hydrogen is injected into the flow, allowing for theoretical speeds of Mach 20.
That’s what was hoped for during DARPA’s Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 test flight last year, as well. Unfortunately, that widely watched test ended in failure after the craft’s skin peeled away from its body and the flight was terminated before any record breaking speeds could be reached.
The X-51 didn’t fare much better during its previous test that ended in disaster after the craft rocketed to speed, but failed to separate from its booster and crashed off the coast of Southern California.
Hopefully tomorrow’s test will proceed more like the 2010 test flight when the X-51 reached speeds of Mach 5, and flew for almost four minutes.
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