Volume 46 | Issue 7 | August 2004
Guinness Certifies X-43A Speed Record
By Keith Henry
NASA's X-43A already is headed for the record books, but Guinness World Records officials should probably be prepared for an update. In October, NASA hopes to bump its recently set world speed record for a jet-powered aircraft from Mach 7 to Mach 10. Mach 10 is ten times the speed of sound, or approximately 7,200 mph.
Meanwhile, NASA officials are pleased with this week's recognition by the self-proclaimed "keeper of the world's records" of the Mach 7 record set in March, when an unpiloted X-43A aircraft flew about 5,000 mph over the Pacific Ocean to demonstrate highly advanced engine technologies.
The official Guinness World Records certificate reads:
"The fastest air-breathing aircraft is NASA's X-43A, which achieved Mach 6.8316 on 27 March 2004 in a flight lasting 11 seconds over the Pacific Ocean."
The flight easily set a world speed record for an airbreathing - or jet - engine aircraft. The previous known record was held by a ramjet-powered missile, which achieved slightly over Mach 5. High-speed air-breathing engines, like a ramjet, mix compressed air from the atmosphere with fuel to provide combustion. The same is true of the scramjet - supersonic combustion ramjet - that powers the X-43A. The highest speed attained by a rocket-powered airplane, NASA's X-15 aircraft, was Mach 6.7. The fastest airbreathing manned vehicle, the SR-71, achieved slightly more than Mach 3. The X-43A more than doubled the top speed of the jet-powered SR-71.
The accomplishment will be included in the 2006 Guinness World Records book, set for release in 2005, and will soon appear on the organization's Web site at http://www.guinnessworld records.com. The Guinness database contains these details:
"On 27 March 2004, NASA's unmanned Hyper-X (X-43A) airplane reached Mach 6.8316, almost seven times the speed of sound. The X-43A was boosted to an altitude of 29,000 m (95,000 ft) by a Pegasus rocket launched from beneath a B-52B aircraft. The revolutionary 'scramjet' aircraft then burned its engine for around 11 seconds during flight over the Pacific Ocean."
Guinness World Records science editor David Hawksett already has expressed an interest in attending the upcoming flight in hopes of personally observing the next record-setting event.
"Operating an atmospheric vehicle at almost Mach 7 is impressive enough, but to be able to use oxygen from the air, instead of a fuel tank, as it screams into the engine intakes at 5,000 mph is a mind-boggling technical achievement," Hawksett said of the Mach 10 effort. "It's wonderful to see scramjet technology finally begin to take off."
The X-43A flights are part of NASA's Hyper-X Program. Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., is leading the project's technology development while flight test is being conducted at Dryden.
Technologies from the program may be applied to future hypersonic missiles, hypersonic airplanes, the first stage of reusable two-stage-to-orbit launch vehicles and reusable single-stage-to-orbit launch vehicles.
Guinness World Records marks its 50th anniversary this year. Total sales of the popular book topped 100 million in October 2003, with this year's edition on track to sell 3.5 million more in over 100 countries and 23 different languages.