China has started building the world’s fastest wind tunnel, a structure that will allow the PRC to test hypersonic aircraft capable of reaching the U.S. west coast in 14 minutes at a blistering speed of 7.5 miles per second, or about 12 kilometers per second.
The move will help China directly challenge the United States’ own airborne firepower, specifically around unmanned hypersonic flight.
The fastest wind tunnel is now in the United States, the LENS-X wind tunnel at the Calspan-University at Buffalo Research Center (CUBRC), which can be used to simulate aircraft speeds of up to 10 kilometers per secon (about 6.2 miles per second), also referred to as Mach 30, equal to 30 times the speed of sound.
But the LENS-X can only run for a couple of minutes at top wind speed. China’s effort will take that up a notch, at least in terms of max. wind speed if not the duration it can run at that speed.
But despite the capability of the wind tunnels themselves, there are few aircraft that can actually travel at those speeds. In 2011, for example, the U.S. tested the HTV-2, a Mach 20 unmanned aircraft, but it crashed into the Pacific after only a few minutes of hypersonic flight.
Regarding the China wind tunnel project, Zhao Wei, a deputy director of the State Key Laboratory of High Temperature Gas Dynamics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, told South China Morning Post:
“It will boost the engineering application of hypersonic technology, mostly in military sectors, by duplicating the environment of extreme hypersonic flights, so problems can be discovered and solved on the ground.”
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