A U.S. Air Force experimental unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) set a new hypersonic record this morning when it reached Mach 5 for over three minutes. The X-51A Waverider was launched from a B-52 bomber over the Point Mugu Naval Air Warfare Test Range in California.
Relying on solid rocket boosters to reach Mach 4.8, the X-51A Waverider then activated its scramjet engine to achieve a speed above Mach 5. It sustained this speed long enough to travel approximately 200 miles in the three minutes the scramjet was activated.
How significant is this? The X-51A Waverider program manager equates it to the leap from propeller driven to jet aircraft that occurred following World War II. The X-51A is the brainchild of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and has been under development since 2004.