Hypersonic Vehicle Enters Flight Phase; Second Vehicle Arrives

Press Release From: Dryden Flight Research Center
Posted: Monday, February 5, 2001

The first of three hypersonic (X-43A) research vehicles started the final preparations toward a flight in early summer, as the second vehicle arrived on January 31, 2001, at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.

After successful completion of electrical and mechanical checks, mating of the X-43A to the Pegasus( rocket booster was accomplished on January 10, 2001. Pegasus( is built by Orbital Sciences Corp, Dulles, Va. The Orbital and Dryden team members performed several mission simulations to validate the Hyper-X vehicle system operations.

"The Project team is excited about this milestone. Everyone is anxious to fly," said Joel Sitz, Dryden X-43 project manager. "We have worked extremely hard on improving the chances for Hyper-X mission success. All the organizations at Dryden were involved and very helpful.

Sitz added that, "the X-43A flight project engages the best of what flight research stands for and the upcoming first flight of an integrated-airframe scramjet is an aerospace milestone all of us can be proud of."

The Hyper-X program is aimed at flight-validating airframe-integrated, air-breathing propulsion system designs, which so far have only been tested in ground facilities, such as wind tunnels. A major goal of the program is the demonstration of a scramjet engine.

A ramjet operates by subsonic combustion of fuel in a stream of air compressed by the forward speed of the aircraft itself, as opposed to a jet engine where fan blades compress the air. The scramjet is a ramjet engine in which the airflow through the whole engine remains supersonic. The fuel for the X-43A is hydrogen.

Unlike a rocket that must carry its own oxygen for combustion, an air-breathing aircraft scoops air from the atmosphere. An air-breathing vehicle can carry more payload than a rocket-powered propulsion vehicle. The X-43 will use the body of the aircraft to form critical elements of the engine with the forebody acting as the intake for the airflow and using the aft section as the nozzle.

The X-43A is a 12-foot, unpiloted research vehicle manufactured by MicroCraft Inc., Tullahoma, Tenn. A captive-carry flight, where the B-52 and X-43A "stack" remain mated to test flight systems and practice procedures, will precede a free flight set for early summer. The booster accelerates until the X-43A separates at a predetermined altitude and velocity to fly a pre-programmed trajectory. Three research flights are planned--two flights at Mach 7 and one at Mach 10. The X-43A will conduct aerodynamic and propulsion experiments until it impacts into the Pacific Ocean.

NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., has overall management of the program and leads the technology effort. Dryden is the lead for the flight tests. Dryden engineers are working closely with their colleagues from Langley and industry.


Still photos are available from the Dryden Public Affairs Office to support this release. Check for availability of video. For photo prints or video dubs, please call (661) 276-3449. Photos are also available on the Internet under NASA Dryden Flight Research Center Aircraft Photo Gallery, URL:

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