China’s new hypersonic plane could fly passengers from Beijing to New York in two hours

Flying from Beijing to New York currently takes around 14 hours, but the journey time could soon be slashed to as little as two hours if China’s new hypersonic plane is a sign of things to come.

China’s new hypersonic plane could fly passengers from Beijing to New York in two hours

A team of scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences has tested a scaled-down version of its hypersonic plane, dubbed the I-plane, at speeds up to Mach 7 (8,600kph) in a wind tunnel and found that it performed well.

In a paper published in the journal Science China Physics, Mechanics & Astronomy, the team explains that although “it only takes a couple of hours from Beijing to New York at hypersonic speed”, there are still many problems to overcome – especially relating to aerodynamics – before such flights can become a reality.

Specifically, it explains how it’s very difficult to maintain a high lift-to-drag ratio at hypersonic speeds thanks to the presence of “strong shock wave drag and massive viscosity”. To combat these problems, the I-plane features two sets of wings.

In their tests, the researchers found its aerodynamic configuration worked well, producing high lift and, importantly, a high lift-to-drag ratio.

As reported by South China Morning Post, the amount of lift generated by the plane was around 25% of that of a commercial jet. “That means an I-plane as big as a Boeing 737 could carry up to five tonnes of cargo, or 50 passengers,” the site explains.

The design could have significant implications for the race between the US and China race to develop hypersonic weapons. Only last month, US Admiral Harry Harris warned Congress about China’s “heavy investment” in hypersonic missiles. 

Speaking to South China Morning Post, an unnamed researcher involved in Chinese military research projects said of the I-plane: “We’re talking about something like a hypersonic heavy bomber.”

“The paper has sent ripples through the hypersonic research community. It’s a crazy design, but somehow they’ve managed to make it work,” the researcher added.

Image credit: China Science Press

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