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The X-51 Hypersonic missile will be launched into action later this month.  (Source: Weapons Blog)

Another view of the craft  (Source: U.S. Air Force)
The U.S. Air Force is set to successfully launch a Boeing X-51 for 300 seconds of hypersonic flight

By the end of this month, the U.S. Air Force will begin a series of hypersonic tests that will send a scramjet into the atmosphere for about five minutes, at nearly five times the speed of sound. A scramjet is a supersonic combustion ramjet, while a ramjet is a jet engine using the engine's forward motion to compress air.
 
If all goes as planned, this will be the first time that an aircraft will have flown at such speeds for more than a few seconds of time.

In previous attempts, the NASA X-43 was powered-up for just 10 seconds of flight.  The X-43 was tested four times in 2004 and was hydrogen-powered.

This time around, the U.S. Air Force will be testing the X-51 Waverunner, which runs on compressed air that ignites fuel by combustion.  The X-51 is designed to be dropped from beneath a B-52 bomber.

A rocket booster will ignite and accelerate the Waverunner.  It will then run its course -- from Mach 1 to Mach 6 -- under its own power,  at which time the nose of the X-51 is expected to reach at least 1,480 degrees F.

The aircraft fuel will then be piped through tubes around the engine surface and will help warm the fuel to the temperature needed to ignite it as well as draw off heat to keep the engine from melting.  

According to 
Popular Mechanics,  the X-51 Waverunner is a global strike missile that is part of the Prompt Global Strike research project being developed by Boeing and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. 

The Waverunner is said to be a warhead in the making, which will be filled with thousands of rods 12 times as destructive as a .50-caliber bullet, targeted to shower a designated area.

It is being developed for precision, speed, and range and has been designed to strike any place on the planet in an estimated 60 minutes.

The long-term goal is to design airplanes and missiles that would reach Mach 25.  The U.S. Air Force plans to conduct up to four tests of the Waverunner this year.



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RE: Some addl info
By ekv on 5/9/2010 8:29:29 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
thousands of rods
Think of it this way. You've no doubt heard of the A-10 with the GAU-8 Avenger. It shoots 2100 rounds per minute [actually 4200 but that's another story] of 30mm. Wikipedia says "Muzzle velocity when firing Armor-Piercing Incendiary rounds is 3,250 feet per second."

Now imagine all 2100 rounds arriving at the same time. Consider Mach 5 to be about 3000 mph (which is about 4400 fps).

Or perhaps you've seen video of the AC-130H Spectre gunship firing....

All of that arriving at basically the same time represents a lot of energy. [No jokes about negative vibes, please 8]

Btw,
http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/air...
says the cost is about $70 million for development costs, w/ an option for $60 mil to get to the flight stage [which is basically where we are now]. Fairly cheap. No idea what the per unit costs would be but probably not bad. $4-5 mil?

Having said that, I don't readily understand the strategic value, other than you have some bad-a$$ engine technology developed for future aircraft (what-have-you).

I suppose if you think of going after O_ama Bin Laden you can't really use cruise missiles, nor AC-130H, nor Apaches, nor F-22, nor ICBM's. Maybe MQ-9 Reapers, maybe. Ranger and/or Seal teams, sure, but that takes time.

I wonder if this thing would have enough energy to be a bunker-buster?


RE: Some addl info
By porkpie on 5/9/2010 9:36:10 PM , Rating: 2
"I suppose if you think of going after O_ama Bin Laden you can't really use cruise missiles"

You can actually...but cruise missiles can take 2-3 hours to arrive, by which time your target may well have moved on. In fact, the primary impetus for this program (or so it's reported) was the failed Tomahawk attack on Bin Ladin, who left camp before the missile arrived.


RE: Some addl info
By ekv on 5/9/2010 10:13:54 PM , Rating: 2
You CAN do virtually anything. In fact, you CAN give me a bb gun and send me marching. The effectiveness may not be so hot, and it'll take a rather longer period of time than 2-3 hours 8) This was the context of my statement.

Clinton's Tomahawk's were launched on August 20, 1998. The HyTech and Fasthawk, which are feeder programs for the x-51, both pre-date that time. It is possible the given scenario is a primary impetus, but just that. Unless, you have a link that says otherwise?


RE: Some addl info
By porkpie on 5/9/2010 10:34:19 PM , Rating: 2
" The HyTech and Fasthawk, which are feeder programs for the x-51, both pre-date that time."

Fasthawk was defunded in 1998, the same year it was reported that the small, low-funded HyTech wouldn't result in an actual hypersonic missile before 2015 at the earliest.

Then we missed Bin Laden in Afghanistan, and HyTech suddenly resurfaces as the much better funded and higher profile X-51 program, with first flight tests originally planned for 2009. Draw your own conclusions as to what sort of boost this incident gave the program.


RE: Some addl info
By Calin on 5/10/2010 6:17:11 AM , Rating: 2
Fueling for some ICBM missiles is at about one hour - this weapon's purpose is to be able to hit an ICBM site between the time it started fueling, and the time the ICBM is in flight.
People are researching ways to bring down an ICBM in flight - but it's a small target (at most tens of square meters) moving at a very very high speed (and most of the time, it's very distant). Hitting them while staying on the launch pad is much easier (stationary missile and a lot of flammable substances) and safer (it's destroyed in the enemy's back yard).


RE: Some addl info
By DanNeely on 5/10/2010 6:37:24 AM , Rating: 2
Most remaining ICBM's are solid fuel designs. Once they became available everyone rushed to replace their liquid fuel models because the hypergolic fuels were so dangerous.


RE: Some addl info
By xrodney on 5/10/2010 4:34:37 AM , Rating: 2
Just instead of thousands of small metal rods put inside one with small explosive inside and you have exactly that.

High velocity allows you to penetrate any material bunker and then let it explode inside.


RE: Some addl info
By eachus on 5/18/2010 1:07:17 PM , Rating: 2
I wonder if this thing would have enough energy to be a bunker-buster?

Lol! I keep trying to explain to people that "tactical" nuclear weapons became obsolete during the first Gulf War. The Air force took old 8" gun tubes, filled them with explosive, and put on an armor piercing cap and a GPU-14 precision guidance unit.

You may have heard about the case where about 500 family members of Iraq's ruling elite were killed in a nuclear bomb shelter. Dropping the bomb from a high enough altitude meant it arrived hypersonic and drilled through the top and bottom of the bomb shelter, and into a hardened command and control site under the shelter. Unfortunately for the families, the Iraqis had added a large fuel tank in the C&C facility, which resulted in a fuel-air explosion in the shelter above.

The Thor's Hammer trick with basically steerable crowbars arriving hypersonically can take out nuclear hardened missile silos. If liberals would stop hyperventilating about first strike capability and deploy this in orbit, ICBM would likewise become obsolete. A B-52 launched version is suboptimal, but much better than nothing. The important thing to remember is that these are much, much cheaper than nuclear weapons and/or any shielding that can defend your arsenal from kinetic strike.

They are also not real useful against soft targets like civilians and cities. You could drill a hole in the gold vault under the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. But if you attacked an average house, you would put a small hole in the roof, and in the basement floor, and a hundred feet or so underneath. ;-)


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