The U.S. Air Force’s X-51 hypersonic test aircraft failed during its latest launch over the Pacific Ocean.
A B-52 bomber flying over the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Center Sea successfully launched the X-51 - called the Waverider - in the late morning on August 14, the Air Force said in an August 15 statement. But 16 seconds later, “a fault was identified with one of the cruiser control fins.”
After being released by the B-52, a rocket boosts the X-51 before its scramjet, hypersonic engine kicks in. But once the rocket separated from the X-51 this week, testers were unable to control the Waverider due to the broken fin and the aircraft was lost.
“It is unfortunate that a problem with this subsystem caused a termination before we could light the Scramjet engine. All our data showed we had created the right conditions for engine ignition and we were very hopeful to meet our test objectives,” said Charlie Brink, X-51A Program Manager for Air Force Research Laboratory.
Program officials are working to determine the cause of the failure.
The Air Force has not had problems with X-51 fins during the prior two test flights of the X-51. In May 2010, an X-51 flew for more than three minutes at Mach 4.88.
The X-51 is built by Boeing. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne makes the hypersonic engine.