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But hypersonic means traveling at or above Mach 5. That’s a missile or drone traveling over 6,120 KPH, which is about 3,837 MPH.
What are hypersonic planes?
- “Hypersonic” was sort of that buzzword among governments several years ago.
- A plane traveling at the speed of sound is traveling at Mach 1, which means that it’s traveling at around 1,220 kilometers per hour (KPH), or 760 miles per hour (MPH). So, Mach 2 means that the aircraft is traveling at twice the speed of sound.
- But hypersonic means traveling at or above Mach 5. That’s a missile or drone traveling over 6,120 KPH, which is about 3,837 MPH.
What happened recently?
- This week, Chinese military researchers have said they may have found a way to land ultrafast hypersonic aircraft safely.
- For years, China and Russia have been developing missile and drone technology to travel at hypersonic speeds.
- But, the problem with drones and other aircraft traveling this fast is that they have trouble landing. Not even the fastest computers can make decisions fast enough to get safely back on the ground at that speed.
- Now though, research published in “Tactical Missile Technology” by Dei Fei and his team from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force explained how they could get around this issue to land hypersonic drones safely and later on planes.
- The researchers realized that they wouldn’t be able to speed up the landing decisions of the aircraft enough to land at those speeds. Not even the fastest flight computers in the world could beat Mach 5.
- Instead, they decided to predict landing situations ahead of landing. The drone provides three different landing situations and then chooses one based on air pressure and altitude.
- Once the drone chooses the correct landing situation, it’ll start slowing down. The flight software will then figure out how long it will take to slow down and shut down at the correct distance.
- At an altitude of 30 km (19 miles), the drone will shut down about 200 km (125 miles) before reaching the landing strip.
- At this point, the drone becomes a glider because hypersonic motors can’t be restarted. The computer will help slow down by steering it in an S shape until the drone reaches a speed that’s safe to land.
What does this mean for the global arms race?
- Hypersonic air power has massive consequences for the global arms race.
- Missiles and drones traveling at these speeds can be anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes.
- The US, Russia and China have all been racing toward this new mastery of the skies. Only China and Russia have been openly successful so far, and this latest update puts China ahead.
- The PLA has actually showcased some hypersonic technology before. For example, the DF-17 was confirmed in 2014 by the United States.
- However, nothing they’ve shown before has been able to land. Dai Fei and his team of researchers from the PLA are the first groups to announce that they may have found the ability to land at these speeds.
- While Russia has a few hypersonic tools of its own, none can land. The US has announced a new hypersonic missile, but it has not yet openly passed functional tests.
Why does this matter so much?
- According to Wang Xing from the Air Force Engineering University, these new hypersonic drones could be deployed to counter stealth aircraft (aircraft designed to avoid detection) like the US F-22.
- After an air attack, F-22s go home at a speed of Mach 2, but Xing says that these new drones would be able to catch them within seconds.
- Having a hypersonic aircraft that can land also potentially opens those super speeds up to civilian uses.
- China plans on having an aircraft capable of taking 10 people around the world in an hour by 2035.
- The United States has announced that they are moving forward with their own hypersonic weapons, with Lockheed Martin as their supplier.
- These new capabilities mean that any military power can reach anywhere on the globe within minutes and even avoid common surveillance and defense systems.
- With China being the only power that has possibly found a way to land at these speeds, right now, they are also the only ones capable of providing transportation at these speeds.
- If the rest of the world can’t catch up, the aerospace industry will be tied to China to provide cutting-edge and blazingly fast travel across the globe.