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August 15, 2012

Experimental Unmanned Aircraft Fails to Reach Hypersonic Speed

By Ashok Bindra, TMCnet Contributor

CNN reported that on Tuesday Air Force launched an experimental unmanned hypersonic aircraft, labeled X-51 WaveRider, which was designed to fly at six times the speed of sound or about 4,600 mph. Based on Pentagon statements, the unmanned X-51 WaveRider spiraled out of control and was destroyed before it could reach its goal of speeding to 4,600 mph.

The CNN reported that this was the third test of the X-51A WaveRider, which was launched off the California coast from a B-52 modified bomber aircraft. The experimental Air Force plane was designed to fly for 300 seconds before reaching the hypersonic speed of Mach 6.

However, according to Air Force officials, it only flew for 16 seconds. The problem was caused by a tail fin, which caused the missile-like aircraft to go out of control before the main engine could be ignited. Thus, prompting leading researchers to destroy it early.

The CNN report published a statement from the Air Force that read, "A fault was identified with one of the cruiser control fins. Once the X-51 separated from the rocket booster, approximately 15 seconds later, the cruiser was not able to maintain control due to the faulty control fin and was lost.”

The statement added, "Program officials will now begin the process of working through a rigorous evaluation to determine the exact cause of all factors at play."

After researchers are able to analyze the flight data in a few weeks, the Air Force intends to go public with some details of the failed test.

The CNN report quoted Charlie Brink, X-51A Program Manager for Air Force Research Laboratory (News - Alert), as saying, "It is unfortunate that a problem with this subsystem caused a termination before we could light the Scramjet engine. All our data showed we had created the right conditions for engine ignition and we were very hopeful to meet our test objectives."

While there is one more X-51A WaveRider remaining, the officials are not sure when the fourth WaveRider will be tested, according to CNN.

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Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli

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