China is building world's fastest wind tunnel – a facility that would simulate conditions for hypersonic flight testing and bolster the country's futuristic weapons development programme, according to a report in South China Morning Post.
The upcoming facility, which is slated to open sometime around 2020, will create testing conditions for aircraft that would reach speeds of around 12km per second (about Mach 35). At this speed, a jet from China could reach the west coast of the United States within 14 minutes.
As the report notes, the advanced testing facility would enable ground-based trials and reduce the possibility of failure by bringing down the risks associated with the extreme conditions of air-based hypersonic tests.
It would be developed by the same team that built JF-12, China's current hypersonic wind tunnel, which can mimic flight conditions at speeds ranging from Mach 5 to Mach 9.
Zhao Wei, a senior scientist working on the project, said that the new tunnel "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".
Currently, the world's fastest wind tunnel is the LENX-X facility at the Calspan-University at Buffalo Research Centre, operating at 10km per second (Mach 30). It has even been used to run tests for Nasa's Orion spacecraft.
Its upcoming competition from China will boast a large chamber with enough space to accommodate a massive aircraft with a wingspan of three meters.
To simulate the conditions of a hypersonic flight, the researchers will first trigger a series of explosions by detonating a mixture of multiple gases (hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen). This would approximately generate one gigawatt of power.
The resultant shockwaves from the explosion will then be channeled into the test chamber, exposing the prototype aircraft to extreme conditions and heating it over 7,000C, which is way beyond the temperature on Sun's surface.
China is pushing the development of hypersonic capabilities to gain an edge over other nations. In April 2016, the country completed the seventh test of DZ-ZF – its hypersonic and potentially nuclear-capable glider.
The US, on the other side, has also been working on the development of hypersonic technologies. According to a report in Scout Warrior, Air Force Chief Scientist Geoffrey Zacharias has said that America's unmanned hypersonic surveillance flight is moving on track to be effective by the 2030s.
"China and the U.S. have started a hypersonic race," said Wu Dafang, a professor at the School of Aeronautic science and engineering at Beihang University in Beijing, according to the SCMP report. "[The new tunnel will be] one of the most powerful and advanced ground test facilities for hypersonic vehicles in the world. This is definitely good news for us. I look forward to its completion."