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So why, on close inspection, does it seem so very ... jury-rigged?
For example, the X-51A's booster stage comes from the Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS). The FADEC is re-gifted from the F-35 program, which had inherited a surplus digital control system from the F119. Its super-combusion ramjet engine, the most sophisticated of its kind, boasts an igniter pilfered from -- of all things -- a rotting TP-33 TF33 turbojet that once powered a Lockheed C-141 Starlifter.
Charlie Brink, the X-51A's Waverider programme manager, explains.
The $250 million Waverider experiment is designed to test the capabilities of supersonic combustion propulsion at hypersonic (Mach 5.0+) speeds. If anything fails during any of the four planned flight tests, it better have something to do with the engine, Brink says.
That philosophy drives a rule for Brink's contractors: take no unnecessary risks by integrating all-new and untested systems or components outside the critical path of the engine. The idea also carries over into structures.