X-51A Scramjet Test Flight

The X-51A Waverider hypersonic aircraft had its second test flight earlier this week. Unfortunately, its supersonic combustion ramjet (scramjet) engine failed to transition from its start-up fuel to its primary fuel. According to the US Air Force Research Laboratory:

A US Air Force B-52H Stratofortress released the experimental vehicle from an altitude of approximately 50,000 feet. After release the X-51A was initially accelerated by a solid rocket booster to a speed just over Mach 5. The experimental aircraft’s air breathing scramjet engine lit on ethylene and attempted to transition to JP7 fuel operation when the vehicle experienced an inlet un-start. The hypersonic vehicle attempted to restart and oriented itself to optimize engine start conditions, but was unsuccessful. The vehicle continued in a controlled flight orientation until it flew into the ocean within the test range. #

Un-starting is the term used when supersonic flow is lost in an engine or wind tunnel. If the pressure or temperature in the engine deviates too far from the ideal conditions, the upstream mass flow through the engine will be greater than the downstream mass flow and the engine will choke (video). A shock wave forms and travels upstream, leaving subsonic flow in its wake. Loss of supersonic flow inside the engine would likely also result in losing ignition of the fuel/air mixture, resulting in flameout. #

If you haven’t guessed already, engineers like to make up words.

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