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IPFS News Link • Transportation: Air Travel

China Makes Most Powerful Detonation Engine for Hypersonic Flight

•, by Brian Wang

The "revolutionary" air-breathing engine could lift an aircraft from a runway to more than 30km (18.6 miles) into the stratosphere and continuously accelerate it to 16 times the speed of sound. The longest intercontinental flights would take just one or two hours while consuming less fuel compared with conventional jet engines.

The engine blueprint was detailed in a peer-reviewed paper published in the Chinese Journal of Propulsion Technology in December by a team led by Zhang Yining with the Beijing Power Machinery Institute.

According to the China research paper, the engine operates in two distinct modes: below Mach 7 speed, it functions as a continuous rotating detonation engine.

Air from the outside mixes with fuel and is ignited, creating a shock wave that propagates in an annular, or ring-shaped, chamber. The shock wave ignites more fuel during rotation, providing a powerful and continuous thrust for the aircraft.

Above Mach 7, the shock wave stops rotating and focuses on a circular platform at the engine's rear, maintaining thrust through a nearly straight-line oblique detonation format, according to the paper.

The fuel auto-detonates as it reaches the rear platform because of the very high speed of incoming air. Throughout its operation, the engine relies on detonation as its primary driving force.

Zhang and his colleagues did not disclose the efficiency of the engine in their paper. However, based on previous scientific estimates, the explosion of combustible gases can convert nearly 80 per cent of chemical energy into kinetic energy. Conventional turbofan engines, which rely on slow and gentle combustion, achieve 20-30 per cent efficiencies.