As nations continue to bolster research into hypersonics, China is building the world’s most powerful wind tunnel, a facility that would fast-track the development and testing of next-gen hypersonic aircraft and missiles.
The new tunnel, according to a report from state-run Xinhua news agency, will measure 265 meters in length and blow high-speed blasts of air to simulate conditions of an actual hypersonic flight. It will be faster than any other tunnel currently in operation and allow avionics researchers to test sub-scaled models of aircraft and missiles capable of reaching Mach 25 (30,625 kmph) or 25 times of the speed of sound.
Essentially, the rapid winds striking the model will give them an idea of the aerodynamic forces and heat-pressure points that might affect flight at such high speeds. Then, they will be able to use that information and introduce critical design changes to make the flight of the full-scale model practically possible.
“The new tunnel will aid the engineering application of hypersonic technology by duplicating the environment of extreme hypersonic flights,” Han Guilai, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) told Xinhua. “Once issues are discovered during these ground tests, they will be ironed out before test flights begin.”
Another scientist working on the project had previously said the initial target to get the facility up and running is sometime around 2020.
Just a few weeks back, CAS tested a sub-scaled hypersonic plane at speeds ranging between Mach 5 and Mach 7 in an existing wind-tunnel. The ultra-fast aircraft, dubbed “I plane,” features a four-winged design and could cut short a 14-hour flight from Beijing to New York to just a couple of hours on coming into action.
In contrast, the current fastest jet, Lockheed Martin’s SR-71, maxes out at just a little more than Mach 3. With this speed, it is hard to imagine an aircraft capable of traveling at Mach 25 at this very moment. However, if that really happens, it would take researchers years to rule out all the problems associated with it.
It also worth noting China is not the only one racing aggressively in the field of hypersonics. America and other nations are also focusing on the tech, with Lockheed Martin already working on Mach 5+ SR-71 successor.
The same even applies to hypersonic missiles that can easily beat conventional anti-missile systems with their ultra-fast speed, unpredictable trajectory and ability to change direction. China tested hypersonic missile DF-17 last year, while U.S. has X-51A Waverider cruise missile which, they say, can travel five to six times faster than the speed of sound. Reports also suggested Russia may have also developed an “invincible” hypersonic missile, but the details of the weapon are still unclear.