AEDC heralds successful first flight of X-51 Waverider
Carson McAfee, ATA outside machinist and foreman, makes a control surface change to the sub-scale model of the X-51 WaveRider during a break in aerodynamic testing at AEDC’s von Kármán Gas Dynamics Facility in 2006 . (File photo)
by Philip Lorenz III
6/1/2010 - ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- Arnold Engineering Development Center employees' contributions played an important role, leading to the historic first flight of the X-51A Waverider May 26.
Ed Mickle, AEDC's senior manager for aerodynamics test facility planning for the capabilities integration division, was the project engineer for aerodynamic testing on the X-51 in 2006. Mickle followed the flight test closely.
Regarding his involvement in supporting the program, he said, "It is pretty neat to be a part of leading-edge technology, things that I haven't done before. That's very interesting and poses challenging problems to the engineer in terms of how to test and how to acquire the data to ensure all objectives are well integrated and meet the customer's needs. So, that was a very exciting part of the test, being able to do that for the customer.
"We've tested a lot of missiles, of course, this is one of the few air-breathing programs, being that it is a scram jet, it's pretty unique."
A B-52 carried the unmanned X-51A to approximately 50,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean before releasing it. A solid rocket booster then ignited, accelerating the X-51 to Mach 5.
Onboard sensors transmitted data to ground systems before the missile was destroyed as planned and plunged into the Pacific. There are no plans to recover it.
Mickle recalled what drove the X-51 testing at AEDC in 2006.
"The customer was looking to verify the aerodynamic configuration and validate his computational results," Mickle said. "This [entry] was conducted for stability and control at hypersonic velocities. We ran pretty much the full gamut of aerodynamic attitudes required by the customer on this test which included both angle-of-attack and angle-of-sideslip testing."
"They were looking at key points in the mission profile and points above; they were trying to map the envelope of what could be expected on this vehicle as it flew at Mach 6. We were really focused on providing high quality data for the customer to conduct vehicle performance evaluations and compare with some of their computations."
Mickle recalls that his team had their share of hurdles to overcome during the test.
"One of the challenges was we had a lot of model changes to accomplish on this test program, and that was critical in getting the model out of the flow, going in and changing the parts on the model and pushing it back up," he said. "That worked out really well. If you've got more than 50 model changes and miss the time in aggregate, then your test program can balloon out on you."
Looking back on the experience, Mickle added, "The customer was really pleased with the way the test came out in terms of meeting his schedule date and the quality of the data that we provided them with."
The X-51 is being developed by the Air Force, DARPA, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, and Boeing.
Engineers expect a great deal will be learned about hypersonic flight during the nearly 300 seconds under scramjet power. The longest-ever previous scramjet test lasted only about 10 seconds, said Charlie Brink, X-51A program manager with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB.