China completes testing of “Nanqiang No.1” – a revolutionary hypersonic airliner technology

According to Chinese media reports, a small prototype hypersonic aircraft for civilian use has finished the first stage of testing in China.

The prototype dubbed – “The Nanqiang No 1” is likely to be a technology demonstrator for a hypersonic airliner and has been tested in a laboratory in Fujian Province, China.

Reportedly, the unmanned aircraft weighs just 500kg (1,100 pounds) and can hit five times the speed of sound or faster. Apparently, three different types of power systems have been integrated into its small body- a design which seemed to be inconceivable initially.

The unique power system, also known as “MUTTER’ – acronym for “multi-ducted twin-turbines ejector-ramjet/scramjet”, includes a pair of turbine engines, a small rocket and two air-breathing ramjets or scramjet engines.

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The breakthrough of this technology will greatly shorten the round-the-world flight time.

Lead project scientist Yin Zeyong wrote in a paper published last week in Acta Aeronautica et Astronautica Sinica, a peer-reviewed journal run by the China Society of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Reportedly, Yin’s team stuck to the MUTTER design despite it being more complex than most hypersonic flight vehicles proposed prior. One of the main challenges faced by the team was forcing three different types of engines to share a single air inlet, something which computer modelling, ground testing and early test flights showed were possible.

According to the researchers, the two turbines could provide a high thrust at a speed below Mach 2 upon take-off. The rocket engine would then accelerate the aircraft to Mach 4. Subsequently, the sub-ramjet above and the main-ramjet below the aircraft would ignite and take the plane to a cruising speed at Mach 6.

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The reusability of the small rocket engine after being subject to work in an extreme environment is uncertain.

Yin further said that for the airline to be commercially viable, the technology must be more efficient as a hypersonic airliner would carry 10 adult passengers, making up only about 2 per cent of its weight.

Researchers test a component of Nanqiang No 1 hypersonic unmanned aircraft in a laboratory in Fujian province. Photo: Xiamen University, Science and Technology Daily

Although the project is beset with technological challenges, the construction of a full-sized passenger plane with a total weight reaching 72 tonnes would likely begin before the end of the six-year programme.

The design team would also have to work on an effective plan to slow down and land the aircraft quickly in an emergency.

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COVER: Aviation A2Z

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