The NASA X-43A hypersonic research vehicle and its Pegasus booster
rocket, mounted beneath the wing of their B-52 mother ship, had a
successful first captive-carry flight this afternoon. A dress
rehearsal for the subsequent free flight, the captive-carry flight
kept the X-43A-and-Pegasus combination attached to the B-52’s wing
pylon throughout the almost two-hour mission from NASA’s Dryden
Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., over the Pacific Missile
Test Range, and back to Dryden.

After taking off from the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards,
Calif., at 12:33 p.m. PDT, the B-52 soared off the California coast
on the predetermined flight path, and returned to Dryden for a 2:19
p.m. PDT landing.

The unpiloted X-43A marks the return to dedicated hypersonic research
flights (at least five times the speed of sound) that NASA last
pursued with the X-15 program that ended in 1969. Unique to the
X-43A is its blending of an integrated airframe with a scramjet
(supersonic combustion ramjet) engine, intended to make the X-43A the
first air-breathing hypersonic vehicle in free flight. This
technology promises significant savings in weight and volume, which
could translate into heavier payloads or longer flight duration for
future scramjet operational craft.

Pending thorough evaluation of all flight data, this captive-carry
test could lead to the first flight of the X-43A “stack” as early as
mid-May. The first free flight will be air-launched by NASA’s B-52 at
about 24,000 feet altitude. The booster will accelerate the X-43A to
Mach 7 to approximately 95,000 feet altitude. At booster burnout,
the X-43 will separate from the booster and fly under its own power
on a preprogrammed flight path. The hydrogen-fueled aircraft has a
wingspan of approximately 5 feet, measures 12 feet long and weighs
about 2,800 pounds.

Three X-43A flights are planned; the first two will fly at Mach 7 and
the third at Mach 10. Valuable performance data will be relayed
electronically to Dryden and Langley. Each experimental aircraft will
fly once in the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division Sea Range
off the southern coast of California and impact into the Pacific

Joel Sitz, Dryden’s X-43 project manager, said, “All systems appeared
to work great. We are very excited. It’s a huge milestone for the
program. A lot of people worked hard to get here.”

Program officials anticipate that this series of experimental
flights will expand knowledge of hypersonic aerodynamics and develop
new technologies for safer and more cost effective space access.
Today’s rocket-powered launch vehicles, including the Space Shuttle,
must carry their own oxygen adding considerable weight, complexity
and cost to each flight.

A scramjet-based propulsion system could decrease propellant system
weight and increase payload — or maintain the same payload using a
smaller, cheaper vehicle. Scramjet technology could also allow
“aircraft-like” operations of launch vehicles with horizontal
take-off, landing and servicing that could greatly decrease
operations cost and time between flights.

NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center is responsible for X-43A
flight-testing and NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.,
manages the program. The vehicle contractor team led by MicroCraft in
Tullahoma, Tenn., includes The Boeing Co., Seal Beach, Calif.; and
GASL, Inc., Ronkonkoma, N.Y. The booster is a modified Pegasus
rocket from Orbital Sciences Corp., Chandler, Ariz.

– NASA –

Note to Editors/News Directors: NASA Television will show today’s
captive-carry flight next week, details TBD. Photographs of the
captive-carry flight will be available today at approximately 5:00
p.m. PDT Dryden’s website: