China Might Have Built a Mach 9 Kerosene-Powered Hypersonic Engine

A U.S. Air Force ACC F-35A Lighting creates a "sonic boom" during the Pacific Airshow on October 01, 2021 in Huntington Beach
A U.S. Air Force ACC F-35A Lighting creates a "sonic boom" during the Pacific Airshow on October 01, 2021 in Huntington Beach

Researchers in China claim to have developed a hypersonic engine capable of propelling a plane up to speeds of Mach 9, nine times the speed of sound. Interesting Engineering reported that Liu Yunfeng, a senior Chinese Academy of Sciences engineer, led the team that created the unique detonation wave engine. The engine generates thrust via detonating kerosene in a series of explosions instead of continually like combustion engines. Earlier this month, technical information on the kerosene-powered engine was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Experiments in Fluid Mechanics.

Besides the absurdly-high claimed speeds, the engine’s use of kerosene-based jet fuel has gotten the attention of many. The Chinese-designed hypersonic engine runs on RP-3 jet fuel. According to Shell, RP-3 is Chinese export-grade aviation fuel, equivalent to Jet A-1, used by commercial airliners in the United States. Despite being difficult to detonate, Yunfeng believes that aviation kerosene is ideal for all air-breathing engines because of its energy density and ease of storage and transportation.

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The hypersonic detonation wave engine successfully underwent ground tests in Beijing. While hypersonic propulsion has primarily been used for military purposes, several ventures on both sides of the Pacific Ocean foresee its use on commercial aircraft. Houston-based Venus Aerospace hopes its hypersonic plane will transport passengers from Tokyo to Los Angeles in an hour. However, there are many financial and logistical hurdles in the way of transoceanic flights measured in minutes instead of hours.

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