Scientists in China claim to have built a hypersonic jet engine—called "sodramjet"—that can fly at 16 times the speed of sound. This means that an aircraft kitted out with such engines could fly anywhere in the world in two hours, according to the scientists.
The test flight of a prototype was carried out in a wind tunnel in Beijing, China, and displayed excellent thrust, fuel efficiency, and operational stability.
Led by Professor Zonglin Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Mechanics, the team's findings were published in Chinese Journal of Aeronautics on Saturday.
This type of engine could be used in "reusable trans-atmospheric planes [that will] take off horizontally from an airport runway, accelerate into orbit around the Earth, then re-enter into the atmosphere, and finally land at an airport," the researchers say.
Standing oblique detonation ramjet engine, or "sodramjet," the engine was tested at speeds of up to nine times the speed of sound in a powerful wind tunnel.
Theoretically speaking, the engine could accelerate an aircraft up to 16 times the speed of sound, but this is yet to be tested. The only wind tunnel able to test this out is currently being built in China, according to Jiang.
The team is confident its sodramjet could be one of the first to move commercial flights to hypersonic speeds.
This isn't the first time scientists create such an engine. The U.S. already created the "scramjet," which was predicted to perform better than regular jet engines at hypersonic speeds. However, the scramjet design suffered setbacks.
Skip scram go sodram! #hyper “Sodramjet [..] ramjet-based hypersonic propulsion, but behaves quite different from the scramjet engine due to its high thermo-efficiency, simple combustor structure, low inflow compression loss, and stable engine operation” https://t.co/HGpPPcmGxa— Juxi Leitner (@Juxi) December 1, 2020
It has to be noted, that this "new" Chinese sodramjet test may have actually taken place "a while ago," cautions a hypersonic aerodynamics researcher who spoke with the South China Morning Post.
China keeps its hypersonic program under wraps due to potential military uses, and peer-reviewed academic papers are "vetted carefully," he said.
Keeping that in mind is important; however, it is also true that "the dream for human beings to fly faster, higher and further than ever," is getting closer and closer in reach, as per the scientists.