Mating Game

Airmen last month successfully mated an X-51A hypersonic flight test vehicle with its host launch platform, a B-52 bomber, at Edwards AFB, Calif. This flight test vehicle arrived at Edwards in June. The fit check was one of the myriad activities in preparation for the inaugural flight of the X-51 planned in December. According to the Air Force, this same X-51 test vehicle is now back at Boeing’s facility in Palmdale, Calif., where additional systems integration and testing are taking place. Two B-52 flights—one captive-carriage and one dress rehearsal—are planned this fall prior to the X-51’s first powered flight, scheduled for Dec. 2, said Charlie Brink, X-51 program manager with the Air Force Research Lab’s propulsion directorate at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. Overall, the Air Force intends to conduct four powered flights of X-51 test vehicles during the flight test phase that will run into 2010. The X-51 is expected to reach speeds in excess of Mach 6. “We’re really breaking new ground in our understanding of hypersonic propulsion, but our four planned test flights will also enhance our knowledge of airframe-engine integration, high-temperature materials, and other technologies,” said Brinks. (Wright-Patterson report by Derek Kaufman)