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Waverider to receive national award of excellence

An Air Force Research Laboratory hypersonic scramjet that reached more than five times the speed of sound will be recognized with a significant aerospace award today in Washington, D.C.

The X-51A Waverider, which reached more than 3,300 miles per hour over the Pacific Ocean on May 1, 2013, will receive the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Foundation Award for Excellence.

AFRL, based at Wright-Patterson, managed the $300 million experimental flight test program with the Boeing Co., which manufactured the airframe, and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, which assembled the engine. The three will share the award. The Air Force has researched designing and building hypersonic weapons.

A 24-member honors and awards committee picked the X-51 from among seven nominations, according to AIAA spokesman Duane Hyland. “It has to be a really extraordinary accomplishment,” he said.

In a statement, AIAA Foundation Chairman Mark Lewis said the X-51 set a milestone in aviation history.

“This is such a fitting tribute because the X-51A program was truly a milestone in atmospheric flight, establishing beyond any doubt that a vehicle can be propelled at sustained hypersonic speeds using an air-breathing engine powered by a relatively conventional fuel,” he said. “The success of the X-51A Waverider program is more than just an outstanding technical accomplishment: It is the culmination of nearly five decades of research in the field, and a testament to what a team of aerospace professionals can achieve when they are united in the pursuit of a barrier-shattering advance in flight.”

On the Waverider’s fourth and final flight last May, the unmanned aircraft launched with a rocket booster after a drop off the wing of a B-52 Stratofortress bomber at 50,000 feet over a Pacific missile test range. A scramjet engine blasted the X-51 to beyond a speed of Mach 5 off the coast of California during the six-minute flight that ended when the experimental vehicle fell into the ocean. The X-51 program had two flight test failures.

Prior award winners included NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Mars Curiosity rover, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, among others.

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