USAF Officials Point To A Faulty Control Fin On The Aircraft
The X-51 Waverider hypersonic aircraft failed fairly spectacularly during a test flight Tuesday. The experimental unmanned aircraft reportedly broke apart over the Pacific ocean just 31 seconds after it launched from the wing of a B-52.
Reuters reports that, according to a statement released by the Air Force, a problem was detected with one of the aircraft's control fins about 16 seconds after its rocket motor ignited. When the rocket separated from the aircraft so that the scramjet could boost it to hypersonic speeds, the fin failed, and control was lost. The Waverider went down in the Pacific Ocean near Point Magu northwest of Los Angeles, according to Daryl Mayer, a spokesman for the 88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
The Air Force had hoped for a flight duration of five minutes, but only got 31 seconds, and only about half of that in controlled flight. It initially stayed on course using the fins on the rocket motor, but when those separated from the rest of the aircraft, control was lost, the Air Force said. The flight plan called for the aircraft to go down in the ocean, and it is considered unrecoverable.
This was the third test flight of the X-51. There is one more of the hypersonic experimental aircraft in the Air Force inventory. The aircraft in the previous test flew at speeds up to Mach 5 for three minutes before it went down in the ocean, which was the planned end to the flight profile. The Air Force is continuing to analyze the data from Tuesday's flight, and has not made a determination whether it will attempt to fly the fourth aircraft.