For a small team of Boeing Phantom Works engineers, years of work and development came down to a nail-biting six minutes. They watched as the U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress swung into position on the Edwards Air Force Base runway with a Boeing X-51A WaveRider unmanned hypersonic vehicle firmly tucked under its wing and took off to begin a historic mission May 1, 2013. Named the WaveRider because it is designed to ride its own hypersonic shock wave, the X-51A completed the longest air-breathing scramjet-powered hypersonic flight ever, flying for three and a half minutes on scramjet power at a top speed of Mach 5.1.
This accomplishment was recognized by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) when they named the U.S. Air Force X-51A team the winner of the AIAA Foundation Award of Excellence April 30.
Program officials have compared the challenge to “lighting a match in a hurricane and keeping it burning.” The flight opened the door to the practical application of hypersonic technology.
“Hypersonic research, which holds great potential for defense and commercial applications, is at the very leading edge of aerospace innovation,” said Chris Chadwick, Boeing Defense Space & Security president and CEO. “The AIAA Foundation Award for Excellence is a great honor for the men and women of the Air Force-Boeing team, who made history on this program.”
Established in 1998, the Foundation Award for Excellence recognized the team for inspiring the global community. Previous Boeing winners include the 787 Dreamliner.
The X-51A was a collaborative effort of the Air Force, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and NASA with industry partners Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne. Learn more about the X-51A mission .