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Today's Test Of The X-51 Waverider Could Usher In A New Era Of Flight

•, Robert Johnson
 The five companies are hoping that's the case in tomorrow's test flight of the X-51 Waverider, an unmanned hypersonic scramjet that will tear through the sky at 4,000 miles per hour.

Though this test will see the X-51 dropped from beneath the wing of a B-52 at 50,000 feet over the Pacific, experts hope the technology could revolutionize air travel on everything from to missiles, to manned aircraft.

The scramjet is supposed to be like comparing today's jet turbines to propeller driven aircraft, and is seen by many as the next evolutionary step in human flight.

W.J. Hennigan from the Los Angeles Times reports talking to Robert A. Mercier, deputy for technology in the high speed systems division at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio who says: "Since the Wright brothers, we have examined how to make aircraft better and faster. Hypersonic flight is one of those areas that is a potential frontier for aeronautics. I believe we're standing in the door waiting to go into that arena."

Scramjet technology forces combustion to occur when airflow surpasses the speed of sound and hydrogen is injected into the flow, allowing for theoretical speeds of Mach 20.

That's what was hoped for during DARPA's Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 test flight last year, as well. Unfortunately, that widely watched test ended in failure after the craft's skin peeled away from its body and the flight was terminated before any record breaking speeds could be reached.

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