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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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effective
By zmatt on 5/10/2010 4:09:21 PM , Rating: 3
seems like they are taking the mass driver (read: rail gun) idea and driving the mass with a scram jet instead of magnetized rails. The kinetic energy of an object increases by the square of it's velocity. A rod going mach 6 has a lot of power. If one were to impact the ground it would be like a large conventional bomb, many of these could devastate an area, without any explosives or nukes used. it's a very clean and cost effective way to kill people. You could reuse scrap metal and wouldn't spend all the money on expensive charges.

Aside from this exotic warhead you have the added capability of such a fast cruise missile. Even with a conventional warhead, having a global strike cruise missile that can hit anywhere in an hour is very useful, you could hit just about anyone without getting attention like moving a carrier fleet, or launching an ICBM, or launching aircraft. And at Mach 6 this thing wont be easy to shoot down either.




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