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NASA’s B-52B launch aircraft cruises to a test range over the Pacific Ocean carrying the second X-43A vehicle attached to a Pegasus rocket on March 27, 2004

The second X-43A hypersonic research aircraft, attached to a modified Pegasus booster rocket and followed by a chase F-18, was taken to launch altitude by NASA's B-52B launch aircraft from the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on March 27, 2004. About an hour later the Pegasus booster was released from the B-52 to accelerate the X-43A to its intended speed of Mach 7. In a combined research effort involving Dryden, Langley, and several industry partners, NASA demonstrated the value of its X-43A hypersonic research aircraft, as it became the first air-breathing, unpiloted, scramjet-powered plane to fly freely by itself. The March 27 flight, originating from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, began with the Agency's B-52B launch aircraft carrying the X-43A out to the test range over the Pacific Ocean off the California coast. The X-43A was boosted up to its test altitude of about 95,000 feet, where it separated from its modified Pegasus booster and flew freely under its own power. Two very significant aviation milestones occurred during this test flight: first, controlled accelerating flight at Mach 7 under scramjet power, and second, the successful stage separation at high dynamic pressure of two non-axisymmetric vehicles. To top it all off, the flight resulted in the setting of a new aeronautical speed record. The X-43A reached a speed of over Mach 7, or about 5,000 miles per hour faster than any known aircraft powered by an air-breathing engine has ever flown.

Image Credit: NASA/Jim Ross