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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 namechamps on 5/10/2010 12:50:42 AM , Rating: 3
Nope. The article just uses a poor benchmark comparison.

0.50 BMG has about 20KJ of kinetic energy. 12x that would be 240 KJ kinetic energy. That is roughly equivalent to the 30 × 173 mm round on the GAU-8 Avenger (1/2)*(0.45kg) * (1080m/s)^2 = 243KJ.

Now at first even that might not seem to "bad ass" till you consider due to lead up/down in a burst by a good pilot only about 100-200 rounds from the A-10 will hit the target area.

Now the article says thousands of penetrators. Is that 2,000 or is it 9,000? Who knows. Lets guestimate and say it delivers 5,000 penetrators to the target area (each the equivelent of 30mm armor piercing auto cannon round).

Three major advantages:
1) All rounds arrive simultaneously. Think giant no warning 30mm shotgun (with 5000 pellet armor piercing buckshot).
2) It is stealthy and can hit a high value target anywhere in the world.
3) It is the equivalent of 25 strafing passes from an A-10

So say you have a high value target spotted by CIA, drone, or some special forces unit. Pop off one of these and within an hour the target area without warning is showed with thousands of penetrators capable of defeating everything up to and including bunkers and main battle tanks.

This thing would be useful in a conventional war for a "shock and awe" or first strike type attack. Imagine what 5000 30mm rounds arriving simultaneously without warning would do to a tank formations, troops in assembly area, aircraft on runway, ammo dump, or command post.

Starting to see it now?

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