Air Force officials say Wednesday’s flight of the experimental X-51A scramjet-powered air vehicle off the coast of southern California represents a groundbreaking—perhaps even paradigm-shifting—development in aerospace. “We equate this leap in engine technology as equivalent to the post-World War II jump from propeller-driven aircraft to jet engines,” said Charlie Brink, Air Force X-51 program manager. “This test,” noted Brig. Gen. William Thornton, 412th Test Wing boss at Edwards AFB, Calif., where the flight test originated, “opens the door for hypersonic weapons capable of prompt global strike, hypersonic air transport, and may someday lead to more economical access to space.” The successful flight culminated six years of work by a team of Air Force, DARPA, Boeing and Pratt& Whitney engineers. Three more X-51 flights are scheduled in the fall. (Edwards release, Edwards report by Diane Betzler, and Boeing release)
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.