China's New Hypersonic I-Plane Travels 10 Times Faster Than a 747
Just a couple weeks afte NASA's newly announced design for a quieter supersonic X-plane, we now have an even faster, weirder-looking aircraft: the Chinese I-Plane, a hypersonic biplane that will be able to fly from Beijing to New York in about two hours.
According to a new paper in the Chinese scientific journal Physics, Mechanics and Astronomy, the I-Plane recently passed a wind tunnel test where the craft withstood Mach 7 winds—that's about 5,600 mph, almost 10 times the cruising speed of an average 747.
The I-Plane's double-wing design gives the craft increased lift and will disrupt its sonic booms, making it more stable. The extra lift will also allow it act as more than just a passenger plane--according to Popular Science:
"The I Plane, if it ever proceeds to test flights, will likely be powered with a combined-cycle engine that uses turbofans for low speeds before switching scramjets for hypersonic flight. Its large payload could enable it to act as the first stage of a reusable space launch system, and in hypersonic flight it could carry and release rockets into the stratosphere."
The I-Plane's flexibility doesn't stop there. It's already being eyed by Chinese military leaders for use as a hypersonic heavy bomber, which could "nullify" air defenses with its sheer speed. Combined with claims that China and Russia are developing space weapons to destroy US satellites, it looks like the face of war is changing.
Even if the I-Plane doesn't make it into military or commercial service, China's investing heavily in hypersonic flight: by 2020, a lab in China hopes to bring a new wind tunnel online that will simulate speeds of up to Mach 36, over 27,000 miles per hour. For context, the current record-holder for fastest manned aircraft is the North American X-15 rocket plane, which clocked in at Mach 6.7. That's still slow compared to the top speed of the Space Shuttle, which flies at 17,500 mph, or around Mach 22.
At the very least, let's hope China's aerospace engineers follow NASA's lead and find a way to make their sonic booms quieter, otherwise a large chunk of the world's population is going to be deaf in a few decades.