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Waverider rides again

I ran across this item in a Jane’s publication:

Boeing prepares X-51A for hypersonic test flight. The US Air Force ( USAF) plans to fly the Boeing Phantom Works X-51A Waverider hypersonic engine research vehicle at up to Mach 6 later this year. Joseph Vogel, Boeing X-51A programme manager, Advanced Network and Space Systems, and Charles Brink, X-51A programme manager, USAF Research Laboratory, spoke to reporters at Boeing’s Huntington Beach facility in southern California on 14 May.

For those who do not know of the Waverider idea, it is a technique for ‘surfing’ on the re-entry plasma. It could be an easier way forwards for getting back from orbit if it can be proven out.. The first I heard about it was roughly in 1985 when I met a Scotsman named Duncan Lunan at a the International Space Development Conference in Washington, DC. He showed up in his clan kilt at the celebration party of the Pittsburgh L5 team which I had led to victory in the competition to run the 1987 conference. Duncan paid his way over and back through the sale of a commemorative brew called “Halley’s Whiskey”, done by a Scottish whiskey maker for the 1986 return of Halley’s Comet. Duncan is without a doubt one of the more memorable characters I have met.

Duncan and his merry band of Glaswegians (ASTRA) ran a long campaign of low budget testing on the Waverider concept and managed to pool resources and get access to a wind tunnel as well as more eclectic test methods. I heard many of the results in the early 1990’s when he gave a talk at Queens University in Belfast for the local astronomy society lecture series. His talk was punctuated by the 6th floor windows rattling from a 1000 pound or so bomb going off at the police forensics lab a few kilometers distant. It was quite an introduction for someone who had never been to Belfast before… we in the audience were then of course discussing probable distances, type of explosive, size, and so forth. As you did when you lived in Belfast in those years.

I again ran into the ASTRA crowd at the WorldCon in Glasgow in 1996 I believe it was. I was there as a sponsor as I had provided the event with a free internet connection via my company in Belfast, Genesis Project Ltd. I believe we talked about Waverider then, but as I went bar hopping in Glasgow with one of the other team members and walked out of his high rise to greet the morning sun, I cannot say I remember much other than that Scotsmen drink like Irishmen.

In any case, I am glad to see this concept is finally getting some serious attention. It has, after all, only been around for three decades that I am aware of, and I would not be surprised if someone told me the idea was old even then. Although it could carry out the same sort of mission, it is not the same as the German Skip-Bomber concept which simply did the skipping stone thing off the upper atmosphere.

If anyone knows more about the X-51, feel free to drop by and comment.

You can learn more about waverider here

14 comments to Waverider rides again

  • Rent sought and captured! Mission accomplished!

  • Alice

    “I met a Scotsman named Duncan Lunan at a the International Space Development Conference in Washington, DC.”

    That name sounds familiar!

    Back at the dawn of time, there was a Scot who had become interested in the radio echoes that plagued early experimenters. He wondered if those “echoes” might actually be deliberate re-broadcasts of terrestrial radio signals by an alien satellite as a means of communicating. After all, we would be listening on the frequencies that we use, and by re-broadcasting signals with variable time delay, the alien satellite could transmit information which any intellig entperson could understand.

    Except that early experimenters dismissed those radio echoes as noise from atmospheric reflections, and did not look for the information therein.

    Our doughty Scot did look for the information. He found a star map with a star missing (Epsilon Bootes?) — a reasonable way of telling intelligent life on Earth where the alien satellite had come from.

    He wrote a book about it. Wonder if it is the same guy?

  • Dale Amon

    No idea. If it was him he’d have been in his twenties when he wrote it. I did not meet him until the mid-eighties.

    Definitely an interesting character though.

  • Alice

    Amazon has a listing for “Interstellar Contact”, by one Duncan Lunan, published by Regnery in 1974 — which is indeed fairly close to the beginning of time as reckoned in these parts. It is a sufficiently uncommon name to suggest that your Duncan Lunan may be one & the same with the author.

    If you ever run into him again, Dale, please ask about it. People who heard him talk about the subject back in the day were apparently fairly impressed.

  • Douglas

    For those who do not know of the Waverider idea, it is a technique for ‘surfing’ on the re-entry plasma.

    That may be, but that doesn’t apply to the x-51.

    The X-51 is one of a few hypersonic concepts that the US Mil has been working on for quite some time. The purpose of the x-51 is to create an identifiably NOT ballistic missile that can be used to replace a fobs kinnetic bombardment that goes well back to the 80’s.

    I think the “waves” that are being ridden are manufactured booms from hypersonic flight. I think they used to call the basic method of propulsion a “SCRAM jet” design.

    Other than some of the other x-kinetics I saw them talking about developing, in the navy times about 12 years ago, is that they replaced a wicking system for fuel injection with an active fuel pump.

    Unless you are talking about another form of wave rider, one that is not the x-51, then applications are different.

    Maybe you are thinking about the poseidon based precursor kinetic, which is in essense a ballistic missile with addition acceleration properties in decent.

    I think that’s how it worked.

  • Dale Amon

    Nope. It’s a shockwave rider. I found a link to the ASTRA work history written by Duncan Lunan and have placed it on the front page. Check it out.

  • Douglas

    Right, that’s What I knew about the x-51, of course I had to read up on it, cuz I wasn’t sure if I was remembering the same system.

    Maybe, I was just kept going back to the “‘surfing’ on the re-entra plasma,” thing that was throwing me off.

    It kept registering with me, that it looked like you were talking about two different but related systems.

    It seems obvious you know more about this than I do. I just remember articles and stuff.

  • Dale Amon

    Since I have never been raised to Pope, I need folks such as yourself to question what I say so that I can either defend it or say ‘oops’.

  • Laird

    Dale, Robert Anton Wilson says that every person on Earth is a Pope (which he defines as “someone who is not under the authority of the authorities”). So on that basis I hereby declare you “Pope”. (Me, too.) Feel better now?

  • Dale Amon

    But does that infallibility thing come along with your title? 😉

  • Robert Hale

    It’ the same guy.
    The book is called Man and the Stars, I think.

  • N. O'Brain

    Wait, you saw the sun in Glasgow?

  • Dale Amon

    Yes, I even took photos so I would be believed.

  • MarcoP

    Sorry to drop by so late, but I came by this article while researching the waverider.
    The Duncan Lunan who theorised the Epsilon Boötes spaceprobe (and later recanted his theory on Interzone, by the way), the author of Man and the Stars (published in the USA as Interstellar Contact), the guy from ASTRA and the supporter of the waverider theory are one and the same – I know him and I can confirm.
    If anybody still cares.