China has unveiled the design of a hypersonic jet that could travel five times faster than the speed of sound, approximately around 6,000kmph, and take on Lockheed Martin's secretive SR-72 spy plane.
The ultra-fast aircraft, dubbed "I plane", would carry a unique four-winged profile and fly people and cargo between Beijing and New York in just a couple of hours. Typically, a passenger aircraft takes more than 13 hours to cover the distance between the two cities.
The novel design of the hypersonic jet has been developed by a group of researchers at Chinese Academy of Sciences and detailed in a paper published in Physics, Mechanics and Astronomy. The team has even started conducting tests to check if the aircraft would obey the laws of aerodynamics at ultra-fast speeds.
Cui Kai, the main head of the project, and colleagues developed a scaled-down version of the I plane and tested it in a wind tunnel. The craft was exposed to aerodynamic forces produced at speeds going beyond 8,600kmph. It apparently did astoundingly well, with low drag and high-lift.
Among the two layer of wings featured on the aircraft, one extends from the middle of the fuselage, while the second sits on top like a bat-shaped structure. This, according to the researchers, will not only reduce turbulence and drag but also ensure that the craft creates high-lift, even with heavier payload onboard.
An aircraft designer involved in China's military projects told South China Morning Post that the plane is more like a hypersonic heavy bomber and could be a game changer for the country. The designer added that the plane could be used to transport anything at ultra-fast speeds, be it flowers or bombs.
It remains unclear when the hypersonic jet would be ready for field testing, but the development of an aircraft like this could be seen as China's answer to America's experimental hypersonic spy plane SR-72. The aircraft features a twin-tail, highly swept delta wing design and is likely to serve as a reconnaissance and strike aircraft that can reach speeds of up to Mach 5 or five times the speed of sound.
Lockheed has been silent on the development of SR-72, but a recent report suggested that a small demonstrator aircraft, believed to be closely associated with the SR-72 project, was spotted. Meaning, the aircraft could already be in the early testing phase.