The US Naval Research Laboratory has funded a groundbreaking project to develop a new hypersonic engine capable of morphing its shape during flight to optimize power, thrust and efficiency. It’s now entering experimental testing in Florida.
Hypersonic aircraft and missiles, capable of traveling between five and 20 times the speed of sound, are at the center of a new high-speed international arms race, with several countries scrambling to build and test weapons and planes that can outrun nearly any conventional munition shy of a laser.
But the aerodynamics at these speeds are absolutely savage, and this has led to some very interesting projects – notably, an NRL initiative in 2019 that sought to morph the entire shape of an aircraft in flight, as a way of creating smooth, seamless control surfaces that can replace hinged ailerons and flaps without adding monstrous amounts of drag and heat.
Now, a team from the University of Central Florida is applying a similar concept to the inside of the scramjet engine. The team is led by Professor Kareem Ahmed, whose work we’ve covered before – back in 2020, Professor Ahmed and his team produced the world’s first stable operation of a rotating detonation engine.
The new project, which has been awarded a US$450,000 NRL grant, will investigate what’s possible when morphing surfaces are used to direct airflow in the supersonic combustion environment of a scramjet engine. Ahmed and his team have already developed an aerothermodynamic model for the engine, and are “currently in the stage of experimental testing.”
“Most hypersonic engines are structurally fixed due to the challenging flight environment,” says the project’s principal investigator Kareem Ahmed, a professor in UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “Our research will show the performance gains from an adaptable engine configuration that would self-optimize its surfaces to maximize performance power, thrust and travel distance which is the first of its kind for hypersonic engines.”
Source: University of Central Florida