Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A two-hour flight from Beijing to New York is the ambitious goal of a group of researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences who just tested a new hypersonic plane dubbed the I-plane.
The aircraft is designed to travel at hypersonic speed – more than 6,000 km/h, five times faster than the speed of sound (1,235 km/h).
The latest tests have had positive results. Researchers pushed a model of the plane to seven times the speed of sound – i.e. more than 8,600km/h – and found it performed surprisingly well, with low drag and high lift.
With two layers of wings, the I-plane design resembles that of biplanes used during the first world war.
It is called I-plane after the shadow cast by the aircraft on the ground – in the shape of a capital “I” – when it is bearing down like a dive-bomber.
However, the amount of lift generated by the new hypersonic vehicle is about 25 per cent that of a commercial jet of the same size.
This means that an I-plane as big as a Boeing 737 could carry up to five tonnes of cargo, or 50 passengers. A typical Boeing 737 can carry up to 20 tonnes of cargo or around 200 passengers.
The team of researchers, which is also involved in China’s top secret hypersonic weapons programme, tested a scaled-down model of the plane in a wind tunnel which was also used to carry out aerodynamics evaluations for China’s newest hypersonic weapon prototypes.
Major countries like China and the United States are racing to develop hypersonic weapons, and a hypersonic plane would enable them to effortlessly penetrate another country’s missile defence system.
At this stage, existing hypersonic vehicles have capacity for just a small, lightweight payload such as a compact nuclear warhead.