The Scramjet Gets Real

DOD has designated Air Force Research Lab’s scramjet engine as the X-51A test vehicle, the latest addition to the class of experimental aircraft. AFRL officials at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, say the X-51A will explore powered atmospheric flight at hypersonic speeds—greater than five times the speed of sound. USAF believes hypersonic propulsion technology will lead to reusable, on-demand launch vehicles and high-speed weapons that could take out time-critical targets over great distances. AFRL plans to launch five to eight scramjet-powered free-flying vehicles in flight tests scheduled for December 2008 and January 2009.