What is hypersonic aircraft?

What is hypersonic aircraft: 

  • In a major breakthrough, China announced that it tested its first hypersonic aircraft which could carry nuclear warheads and penetrate any current generation anti-missile defence systems.
  • The Xingkong-2 or Starry Sky-2, was launched in a target range located in Northwest China on Friday, the state-run China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics (CAAA) said in a statement. It flew independently, made large-angle turning manoeuvres and landed in the targeted area as planned.

What makes hypersonic aircraft special?

  • The high speed is what sets apart the hypersonic flights from others. It travels at least four times faster than the speed of sound. It flies through the atmosphere below about 90km at speeds above Mach 5, according to NASA, a speed where dissociation of air begins to become significant and high heat loads exists. A report in The Independent suggests a hypersonic flight can cut the travel time between Sydney and London to just two hours, from the current 23 hours.
  • This type of aircraft uses the shock waves generated by its own flight as a lifting surface to enhance the lift-to-drag ratio to reach the hypersonic regime of Mach 5 or even above, reported Asia Times.  A traditional engine’s fan blades cannot be used for these jets, as they would melt if used at hypersonic speeds.
  • The aircraft instead uses the shockwaves created by travelling at such high speeds to squeeze incoming air. Some hypersonic vehicles have a special type of jet engine called a Supersonic Combustion Ramjet or scramjet to fly through the atmosphere. Sometimes, a hypersonic plane uses a rocket engine.
  • The United States and Russia have been carrying out similar experiments like China. The aircraft launched by China was designed by the CAAA in collaboration with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. The flight vehicle reached 30 kms in altitude at Mach 5.5-6, the statement quoted by the official media.


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