August 15th, 2012
02:41 PM ET

Air Force's hypersonic test fails

By Mike Mount

A hypersonic aircraft launched by the Air Force Tuesday spiraled out of control and was destroyed before it could reach its goal of speeding to 4,600 mph, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

The third test of the X-51A Waverider was launched Tuesday off the California coast from a B-52 modified bomber aircraft and was to fly for 300 seconds, reaching hypersonic speeds of Mach 6, but only flew for 16 seconds, according to the Air Force.

Officials said a problem with a tail fin caused the missile-like vehicle to fly out of control before the main engine could be ignited, leading researchers to destroy it early.

"A fault was identified with one of the cruiser control fins. Once the X-51 separated from the rocket booster, approximately 15 seconds later, the cruiser was not able to maintain control due to the faulty control fin and was lost," said a statement issued by the Air Force.

It's unclear what, if any, information was gleaned from the test. According to the statement, "Program officials will now begin the process of working through a rigorous evaluation to determine the exact cause of all factors at play."

The Air Force plans to go public with details of the failed test in a few weeks, after researchers are able to analyze the data from the flight.

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"It is unfortunate that a problem with this subsystem caused a termination before we could light the Scramjet engine," said Charlie Brink, X-51A Program Manager for Air Force Research Laboratory. "All our data showed we had created the right conditions for engine ignition and we were very hopeful to meet our test objectives."

The Air Force had four X-51A Waveriders and has tested three. Officials said they do not yet know when or if the fourth Waverider will be tested.

Recommended: Hypersonic flight, what does it mean?

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  6. Gillski

    Soooo. The F-22s aren't fast enough-we need something that will go 4600 mph....Units are struggling due to budget cuts to make sure their people have proper SAFETY equipment but thats not important-–we need to focus on 4600 mph hyper supersonic crap that makes absolutely no sense....quite simple if you ask me

    August 18, 2012 at 8:23 am | Reply
    • Greg

      That's just it...it's not simple...so nobody asked you. Just because you don't understand the difference between a manned supersonic aircraft and an unmanned hypersonic missile doesn't mean everyone else is equally dense.

      August 18, 2012 at 11:26 am | Reply
  7. ggg

    I thought tail fins generally were bad at high mach speeds, they usually cause some flight anomalies. It would be nice to be provided with the design of the fin to determine at what speed the anomaly occurred at, ie. subsonic, supersonic, or transonic speed. My bets are sock waves and wave drag due to improper design, meaning design was based on highly supersonic flight, but didn't fully account for enhanced maneuverability at transonic or subsonic conditions.

    August 17, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Reply
    • Greg

      Wow, thanks for the input. I guess all the hypersonic specialists in the AIr Force don't know as much as you do about designing tail fins. It must have been dumb luck that they worked for the first two flights, huh? Maybe the wind just blew it the right way and they got lucky...twice. If only you'd offered to give them your boundless knowledge before, you could have saved the taxpayer millions of dollars!!!!

      (or maybe, something just broke, and you have no clue what you're talking about. I'm thinking the latter is more likely).

      August 17, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  8. Adrian

    matt you are right next to me in computer apps shut up

    August 17, 2012 at 10:00 am | Reply
    • Lopez

      How many more days will CNN be reporting this ?? Move on to current new please on your header.

      August 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Reply
  9. matt

    Adrian your threw

    August 17, 2012 at 10:00 am | Reply
    • Greg

      Well, you spelled ONE word right out of three. Might want to skip computer class and go back to English. Sigh...

      August 17, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Reply
  10. Adrian

    Why is it so bad that it failed?

    August 17, 2012 at 9:57 am | Reply
  11. ALL uh

    The numbnuts in the Air Force should get some engineers from NASA that just landed a vehicle on Mars.

    August 16, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Reply
    • Horsesrunwild

      Good coment...Makes you wonder...Where does all of our tax dollars go......

      August 16, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Reply
      • Greg

        Not to your school, apparently.

        August 16, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Eric

      Landing a vehicle on Mars has been done before, multiple times now, although there were some failures too. Scramjets have not. That's why they are testing. Oh, and NASA doesn't have a perfect record. Consider Apollo 1, Apollo 13, Liberty Bell 7, Gemini 8, Challenger, Columbia, NOAA-19, MCO, Deep Space 2, MPL, SBIRS, Genesis, Hubble (later fixed), Helios, DART, and OCO.

      August 17, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  12. Everett Wallace

    you space-x mf are real dumb

    August 16, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Reply
    • John

      What does Space X have to do with this test?

      August 16, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Reply
    • Jarrett

      retractable tail fin anyone, iq 157 and I know what has to be done, pay me half what you pay ur guys please. ps ur stabilizer
      is off, ur figuring it for mach 4 speeds not mach 6 which cause increase "water vapour" build up on a certain section(different extreme temp. plus speed ice catch a fin anyone.) Good luck guys

      August 16, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Reply
      • Greg

        Correction...IQ 15.7

        August 16, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
      • Wes Scott

        Considering that the flight was lost 15 seconds after launch and BEFORE the scramjet engine could be ignited you are merely speculating, trying to sound knowledgeable, about things that did not happen. Since the vehicle never got anywhere near Mach 1, much less Mach 4, 5 or 6, there is no evidence that you are correct, which is probably why the USAF has not hired you even at the reduced labor rate.

        August 17, 2012 at 2:18 am |
  13. jeff

    well, it seems that we can figure how the marine life dies during the tests. maybge

    August 16, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  14. manyote

    After all the big bucks spent on this puppy and it fails because of a faulty tail fin. Give us a break!

    August 16, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Reply
  15. michael el

    just looking at the lack of stabilizing wings it seems obvious this thing would lose increasing amounts of ability once it started wavering. What idiocy. And what would be the use of such a thing? To deliver murderous payloads in the blink of an eye? What? We aren't killing people overseas fast enough?

    August 16, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Reply
    • Trevor

      Thanks for the objective and creditable assessment "michael el".. Mr Aerospace Engineer and Rocket Scientist.

      To kill "bad guys" with greater efficiency and speed that are fighting and sometimes killing my fellow servicemembers? ABSOLUTELY...if thats what this project's objective is. Maybe in your spare time, you're also a military affairs journalist with access to some of the details of this project and your speculation is actually creditable.

      I'll bet good money you're none of the above and therefore you're "critque" of this project has ZERO relevance...do you enjoy looking foolish?

      August 16, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Reply
      • CRP

        Hay Trevor. You and your fellow servicemen should not be there in the first place. Wake up.

        August 16, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
      • Horsesrunwild

        And where are all of your tax dollars spent??? Or are U in the top 1% like Mittens????

        August 16, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
      • Wes Scott

        Trevor, I think you are right about Michael el. I have no personal knowledge about this particular project, but my guess is that the X-51A is merely a test bed to prove up the concept and engine design which will probably be enlarged for use on MUCH larger aircraft, not necessarily all of which will be for military purposes. The concepts for hypersonic commercial aircraft that can do transoceanic flights in a few hours have long been on the drawing boards of aeronautical engineers here and abroad.

        August 17, 2012 at 2:24 am |
      • Trevor

        CRP- "over there in the first place"? Deflection from the topic by taking this very specific issue about possibly giving servicemembers an advantage on the battlefield to save their lives and you turn it into a "political" one? How proud you must be...

        August 17, 2012 at 2:36 am |
  16. HighNtellect

    It's funny how it's bad for the government to try and spur innovation in the energy industry by providing loans for alternative energy research, the findings of which would be beneficial for all of human kind. But it's ok for the government to spend $100+ million for each vehicle, that will be destroyed (so far 3), to test what is essentially a better missile that would only benefit our military in the near to mid-term future or until our "ENEMIES" develop a similar technology.

    You telling me that they would ever be able to fly civilians at mach 6 for commercial purposes?! LMAO!!!

    Our priorities are so screwed up it's comical!

    August 16, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Reply
    • Trevor

      Wow, I didn't know that the military "protected and served" itself... If this project produces weapons that benefits me and my fellow servicemembers and gives us an advantage on the battlefield this is a waste? I do really appreciate your support and everything you've done your country...

      August 16, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Reply
      • CRP

        A least he's not out there killing women and children like your fellow servicemen. Do you feel big when you call in a jdam strick on a family?

        August 16, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
      • Trevor

        CRP- INTENT is huge isn't it? Or do you just assume folks like us do this without discrimination? You have no idea of the ROE and restrictions placed on us to minimize civilian casualities over here pal...continue to call us "baby killers"...the vast majority of the American people have our support, you can continue with your assumptions about what really goes on over here from the safety of your home, we'll continue to defend your right to "mouth off" about things you know nothing about...

        August 17, 2012 at 2:44 am |
    • Wes Scott

      Well, LowNtellect, the very idea of hypersonic commercial space travel has already been widely promoted for a couple of decades, and a few wealthy individuals have already been able to experience speeds well beyond Mach 6, so yes, the idea of hypersonic commercial aircraft travel across oceans is very real and reasonable to expect in the near future.

      August 17, 2012 at 2:28 am | Reply
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  17. Peter Kerr

    I am amazed that they were able to recognize a fault and abort the shot within sixteen seconds. They must have just launched it, focused their eyes on the screen and hit abort. A tail fin problem? You would think they would have gone over that potential and eliminated it after wind tunnel experiments with the form......that seems like negligence and is hard to believe. Same thing with that "lunar lander" that just blew up....I have sympathy for the designers and engineers for both these projects, in light of the Glorious Success of the Mars Curiosity Rover these guys must feel like they have egg all over their faces and they do.....they went off half baked. It shouldn't be allowed, they should be denied funding for future projects and be taken off these ones before they waste more precious time and money....a tail fin problem, and it took all of sixteen seconds in flight to determine that? Have they never heard of Quality Control? NDE testing of welds? Wind tunnel would tell about the fin's aerodynamic form and position, x ray or phased array would have told about the structural integrity of the fin......I don't believe this, not really. I may be just an uneducated old fool but I am observant of the testing that goes on when I am at work and while I know problems arise, this tail fin problem should never have arisen, due to the simple fact that it's a basic component of the flight capability.....how could it be problematic and them not know?

    August 16, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Reply
    • Pete Carrillo

      a teleporter wouldn't have any of these problems. sure, people may not rematerialize with all of their limbs and organs in the right place, but we could use Occupy Wall Street protesters as guinea pigs promising to teleport them all over the world each day to whatever the latest, greatest protest that is going on, until we get it right.

      August 16, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Reply
  18. Byrd

    Exactly what kind of waves are you guys planning to ride? Electromagnetic waves, by chance?

    August 16, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Reply
  19. Unfockingbelievable

    Another 7.7 million down the drain.( I looked it up)So where's the tea bagger's and their government waste argument?
    They were probably waving the flag as it crashed

    August 16, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Reply
    • Trevor

      Because waste due to a lack of oversight or by beaucratic design is something that shouldn't be tolerated...if you can point to where this project has either one of those characteristics let us know...

      August 16, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Reply
      • CRP

        You are the one who said Lack of oversight and beaucratic design not the poster. Do you even read the comments befor you mouth off?

        August 16, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
      • Trevor

        CRP- when the poster talks about the the Tea Party and alludes to money "down the drain", I'm telling him EXACTLY what their argument is and if he can point to "waste" with this project then do so...what EXACTLY is your point?

        August 17, 2012 at 2:31 am |
  20. Byrd

    Good.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Reply
  21. mofo

    can't we act like North Korea and pretend everything went off without a hitch and we're now super-loaded with hi-tek space gizmos?

    August 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Reply
    • Pete Carrillo

      yeah, and then we'd be called Russia

      August 16, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  22. Tim

    Lol! Flew for 16 seconds. You mean fell out of the sky for 16 seconds. Faling is not equal to flying.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Reply
    • chopper

      It did not fall thy blew it up reread the article

      August 16, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  23. Pete Carrillo

    Why can't they just skip this missile stuff and bring back the Teleporter from Star Trek, that was way quicker, easier and didn't use so much fuel. There is the risk that a Klingon could attack you, but I'd rather deal with him than the fin coming off my rocketship at 4,600 miles per hour.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Reply
  24. Piobair

    Meanwhile nearly 1 in 4 American children live in poverty; the second worst child poverty rate in the developed world, only slightly better than Romania's, and the United States ranks 49th in infant mortality, slightly ahead of Croatia.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Reply
    • John Smith

      Stopping R&D, like this test that failed is not going to stop poverty. The US spends about 40% of its budget on social programs, maybe better use of the money already allocated or better yet US citizens can get up and do something about it ,adding more money will not solve the problem.

      August 16, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Reply
    • Francisco d'Anconia

      Well, if you're smart, you probably aren't poor. And if you were smart, you'd know better than to have children that you cannot support.

      You do the math.

      August 16, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Reply
    • bobincal

      Here are just some of the Federal and California social programs that benefit he poor.
      . Medicare
      3. Medicaid
      4. Medi-Cal
      5. Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (Food Stamps)
      6. Aid to Dependent Children
      7. Foster care
      8. CalFresh -$54
      9. CalWorks, the state’s welfare to work program.
      10. Unemployment compensation
      11. K-12 education state funding
      12. Section 8 housing
      13. Supplemental Security Income/State Supplemental Payment (SSI/SSP
      14. Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA)
      15. Cash Aid for Families with Children
      16. California Food Assistance Program (CFAP)
      17. County Medical Services Program
      18. Food Stamp Employment and Training Program (FSET)
      19. Employment Development Department (EDD)
      20. CalWORKS
      21. Kin-GAP
      22. Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program
      23. Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP)
      24. Emergency Welfare Services' Mass Care and Shelter Program
      25. In-Home Care
      26. In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS)
      27. Adoptions Assistance Program
      28. BabyCal, Breast and Cervical Cancer Programs
      29. The Assistance Dog Special Allowance Program
      30. The Access for Infants and Mothers (AIM)
      31. Healthy Families Program
      32. AVID Advancement Via Individual Determination

      August 16, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Reply
    • Greg

      Okay, I'll play your game. You want to take $140 million (pick any number) from this program and give it to the poor. Right?

      Then, we'll have $140 million spent on feeding people unable to feed themselves, or otherwise contribute to the economy. They'll sit around doing nothing...well, other than having kids they can't support. More money we'll need to spend.

      In the meantime, you have $140 million worth of salaried people (about 1000 people) unemployed, since you just pulled their funding.

      And you've lost incidental benefits from their research.

      So, you rob Peter to pay starving Paul, and end up with a starving Peter and two Pauls who need continual feeding. Seems pretty obvious to me that it's a LOSING PROPOSITION!

      August 16, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Reply
  25. IfonlyIthot

    TJ and Noel – WELL PUT!!!

    August 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Reply
  26. johnoldridge

    I guess this won't be the test flight that gets noticed by the Vulcans.....

    August 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Reply
  27. DJ

    It's the size of a missle...How it this any help to transportation? or daily life...it's not, it's great for destroying pre-emptive strikes agains the US using ICBM's or maybe other more traditional military hardwares. IDK...does anyone else think this?

    August 16, 2012 at 11:50 am | Reply
    • Eric

      We have ICBMs that go faster. If you want to carry more weight, like people or freight, you need to have an air-breathing engine that can go fast. This is an attempted proof of that concept. If it can be made to work, you can scale from there.

      August 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Reply
    • John Smith

      It is called R&D , this is how we learn, educate ourselves. The technology my be used in the future to power aircraft, missiles,or spaceships, etc......To learn....

      August 16, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  28. Buck Rogers

    Will this failure effect any of the upcoming 'flight's to the International Fake Station?

    http://www.fountainsofthegreatdeep.com/IFS.htm

    August 16, 2012 at 11:33 am | Reply
  29. the boss

    You have to be in the air for more than 30 seconds to fly from LA to NYC

    August 16, 2012 at 11:29 am | Reply
  30. Tim

    Tell me how this is an improvement on the X-15 (which was successful and set world speed records) , which was launched form a B-52 decades ago. Are they trying to re-invent the wheel? Sure seems like it to me.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:02 am | Reply
    • Gene Wright

      .... way different engine type.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:27 am | Reply
    • Blookerman

      The X-15 was manned and rocket-powered. The X-51 is unmanned and scramjet powered. Different engine technology that has great potential to change how you live.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:30 am | Reply
      • Matt

        @Blookerman, the vehicles in test are unmanned. The technology supports crew flights as well. @Tim, the X-15 traveled at maximum speeds of Mach 6. That's the maximum output performance capable of jet engines. The technology used in the new X-51A scramjet engines hold the potential of exceeding speeds of Mach 20 and is more environmentally friendly because it's engines run solely off oxygen instead of carbon based jet fuel.

        August 16, 2012 at 11:57 am |
      • Huh

        Uh..no Matt....the scramjet doesn't just run on oxygen.

        August 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
      • Matt

        http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/14/imagine-flying-from-new-york-to-london-in-under-an-hour/?iref=allsearch

        @Huh, unless you have some sort of insider knowledge, I can only go by what's reported. Try paragraph 12. ;)

        August 16, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
      • Engin101

        It uses oxygen from the atmosphere for its engines, as opposed to carrying large fuel tanks that rockets require, making it a more efficient vehicle for military or commercial purposes...... This does not mean " because it's engines run solely off oxygen". Please research a bit more.

        August 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • John Smith

      Very different type of engine.

      August 16, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Reply
  31. usor

    Oh great!

    August 16, 2012 at 10:55 am | Reply
  32. Matt

    It's funny how they try to hype up the mission's targeted flight time of 5 minutes with "300 seconds." Seems like a grossly misappropriation of the peoples tax dollars to destroy the $140 million vehicles after every test flight. The cost of search and recovery efforts can't possibly exceed that of building new ones.

    August 16, 2012 at 10:53 am | Reply
    • Meh

      eat your waffles

      August 16, 2012 at 10:59 am | Reply
    • amphiox

      Um, these kinds of flights are ALWAYS timed in seconds. And for good scientific reasons. If you are recording data by the second, then you measure your flight time in seconds.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:52 am | Reply
    • amphiox

      This being top secret military technology, probably it is destroyed to ensure that the technology doesn't get out. Whether you think that is a wise use of resources or not, you'll have to take it up with the military planners.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:53 am | Reply
    • sw6blues

      You and I have no clue how many untold millions and billions of taxpayer dollars were spent on military research since (random year) 1935. There is no progress without research and no research without money.

      August 16, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Reply
    • frank

      there goes another 140 million dollars down the drain. meanwhile our infrastructure crumbles. Some expensive 16 seconds.

      August 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Reply
  33. dirty Joe

    Instead of the Air Force, perhaps NASA should be in charge of projects like this. They seem to have a better record of doing technological things right (and spend less money as well).

    August 16, 2012 at 10:47 am | Reply
    • Nighthhaawk

      NAW! Why do that .. the Air Force wants to keep its' secrets ..not share them with NASA!

      August 16, 2012 at 11:00 am | Reply
    • Eric

      Please provide data on this better record and expenses. They both have had successes and failures. Here are some failures for NASA: Apollo 1, Apollo 13, Liberty Bell 7, Gemini 8, Challenger, Columbia, NOAA-19, MCO, Deep Space 2, MPL, SBIRS, Genesis, Hubble (later fixed), Helios, DART, and OCO.

      August 16, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Reply
    • jinji

      it's primarily dealing with the force of the air, hence "air" force.

      August 16, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Reply
  34. jim

    anyone going to the grocery store today?

    August 16, 2012 at 10:43 am | Reply
  35. Francisco d'Anconia

    Our rockets always blow up.

    August 16, 2012 at 10:39 am | Reply
    • Nighthhaawk

      UHH, NO, they don't. Spend a little time actually researching a topic before you insert the foot.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:03 am | Reply
      • Meh

        Francisco was referring to Italy's rockets....not the USA. Take in the whole picture before reviewing.

        August 16, 2012 at 11:22 am |
      • Francisco d'Anconia

        You may want to read a book before replying and proving your ignorance.

        It's a quote from a book. Google it and learn something.

        August 16, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  36. Me

    Hooray! More of tax dollars gone! WOOOO!

    August 16, 2012 at 9:59 am | Reply
    • experienceensolo

      Right, because it is much better to not try to advance our defense technology. Good call, Me.

      August 16, 2012 at 10:31 am | Reply
      • Noel

        What are we defending, the crumbling infastructure or miserable economy?

        August 16, 2012 at 11:53 am |
      • TJ

        Defend against what? We spend more on our defense than the next 25 countries (the vast majority of whom we are allies with) COMBINED.

        August 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • zod

      me = stupid

      August 16, 2012 at 10:48 am | Reply
      • IfonlyIthot

        zon and experienced man – harsh on' ME.' Relax.

        Defense spending should be as focused on anti-terro tactics as anything else. And NASA could do what the AF is trying. And by golly, there are times when our armed forces procurement system wastes lots of money...

        August 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • amphiox

      Seeing as the prototype would have been destroyed regardless, and the purpose was the collection of data, then what we have here is instead of 300 seconds of data, we have 16 seconds of data, with that data, being from a failure, usually much more valuable in the long run than data from a success (as we always learn more from failure than from success).

      So it certainly isn't tax dollars "gone". You could think of it as an unforeseen budget overdraft....

      August 16, 2012 at 11:56 am | Reply
    • frank

      Me
      don't worry.
      the military will just raid the social security trust fund to fund the next hypersonic flight. If that's not good enough they will just cannibalize other programs for funding.

      maybe we all can set up a bake sale to fund the next hypersonic USAF flight.

      August 16, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Reply
      • Maria

        QullVideo on May 19, 2010 Waking up on a cruise is part of the exirnpeece because you never know what the view outside your window will be. Although I can't say any of the place I've been in the Med or Carribean have been as nice as Alaska. It's cold there though, no? I do like the cold

        October 10, 2012 at 11:46 am |
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