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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 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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