The era of hypersonic technologies is here. Unbeknownst too many, a race for hypersonic aircraft and weapons has flourished among global superpowers (China, Russia, and the United States), who realize that the first to possess these technologies will revolutionize their civilian and military programs.
China researchers have just published a radical new design for a hypersonic plane; they indicate it could carry “anything from flowers to bombs” from Beijing to New York in about two hours.
The plane would travel around 6,000km/h (3,700mph) or about five times faster than the speed of sound, according to the team, who is also “involved in China’s top-secret hypersonic weapons programme,” said the South China Morning Post.Today’s current journey from Beijing to New York depending on the jet stream is roughly 13 to 14 hours. An 80% reduction in travel time is a game changer for civilian aviation, but also a red flag if the aircraft is converted into a hypersonic HEAVY BOMBER.
“It will take only a couple of hours to travel from Beijing to New York at hypersonic speed,” head of hypersonic research Cui Kai wrote in a paper this month in Physics, Mechanics and Astronomy, published by Science China Press.
The team said they had tested a scaled-down prototype of the hypersonic plane in a wind tunnel at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Researchers carried out aerodynamics evaluations on the aircraft pushing it to 8,600km/h (5343 mph) and discovered it performed exceptionally well, with low drag and high lift.
Cui and his crew hail from the academy’s Key Laboratory of High-Temperature Gas Dynamics, under the Institute of Mechanics, have dubbed their hypersonic plane the “I-plane”. There is no word if Apple has launched a trademark infringement suit against the team’s “I-Plane.” The South China Morning Post explains the “name comes from the shadow cast by the aircraft on the ground – in the shape of a capital “I” – when it is bearing down like a dive-bomber.”
At ultra-fast speeds, the wings work together to reduce turbulence and drag while boosting the plane’s lift capacity, according to the researchers. Photo: Science China Press
The South China Morning Post reveals how the radical design of the I-Plane is a game changer for aeronautical engineering but stresses the aircraft is still in the experimental stage and many years out from actual development.
With two layers of wings, the I-plane design resembles that of biplanes used during the first world war. The earliest type of aircraft, most biplanes disappeared after the 1930s as plane designers pursued higher speeds and fuel efficiency.
Fast-forward to 2018, and China’s latest hypersonic vehicle features lower wings that reach out from the middle of the fuselage like a pair of embracing arms. A third flat, bat-shaped wing meanwhile extends over the back of the aircraft.
The researchers said this biplane design means the aircraft will be able to handle significantly heavier payload than existing hypersonic vehicles that have a streamlined shape and delta wings.
At extremely high speeds, they said the double layer of wings works together to reduce turbulence and drag while increasing the aircraft’s overall lift capacity.
The amount of lift generated by the new hypersonic vehicle was about 25 per cent that of a commercial jet of the same size, according to the study. That means an I-plane as big as a Boeing 737 could carry up to five tonnes of cargo, or 50 passengers. A typical Boeing 737 can carry up to 20 tonnes of cargo or around 200 passengers.
While Cui’s design has provided an answer to the aerodynamic configuration problem encountered by previous hypersonic plane models, many issues still need to be tackled for this to move beyond the conceptual stage.
All known hypersonic vehicles being developed worldwide are still in the experimental stage because of the many technological challenges that exist, and none of them can take passengers yet.
Last week, Admiral Harry Harris, who heads the military’s Pacific Command, warned lawmakers on Wednesday that, “China’s hypersonic weapons development outpaces ours … we’re falling behind.”
“We need to continue to pursue that and in a most aggressive way to ensure that we have the capabilities to both defend against China’s hypersonic weapons and to develop our own offensive hypersonic weapons,” Harris added.
At this stage, at least we understand who the players will be and how the next world war will be thought. The era hypersonic technologies are here, have you prepared?