The hypersonic race between the U.S. and China continues, as China is reportedly building a wind tunnel in order to test hypersonic weapons that could strike the west coast of the United States in less than 14 minutes.
According to a new report in the South China Morning Post, the wind tunnel is expected to be completed around 2020. The wind tunnel would be used to test weapons and simulate hypersonic flight at speeds of more than 7 miles per second, it reported.
A hypersonic vehicle traveling at that rate would reach the west coast of the U.S. in less than 14 minutes, the report pointed out.
“[The wind tunnel] will boost the engineering application of hypersonic technology, mostly in military sectors, by duplicating the environment of extreme hypersonic flights, so problems can be discovered and solved on the ground,” said Zhao Wei, a deputy director of the State Key Laboratory of High Temperature Gas Dynamics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, who is working on the project, according to the report.
Presently, the world’s most powerful wind tunnel is at the LENX-X facility in Buffalo, New York. There, the wind tunnel can operate at speeds of up to about 6 miles per second, which is 30 times the speed of sound.
A hypersonic aircraft is one that can travel at Mach 5 speeds or faster. Mach 5 is five times the speed of sound, as the terms “mach” and “mach number” refer to the ratio of the speed of an object to the speed of sound in fluid. Object traveling at speeds greater than Mach 1 are said to be traveling at supersonic speeds.
The U.S. has tested a Mach 20 unmanned aircraft in the past. That 2011 hypersonic flight test ultimately crashed into the Pacific Ocean after a few minutes.
China in March conducted seven successful test flights of the WU-14, its hypersonic glider also known as DF-ZF, which travels at speeds between Mach 5 and Mach 10, according to the South China Morning Post report.
“China and the U.S. have started a hypersonic race,” Wu Dafang told the South China Morning Post. Dafang is a professor at the school of aeronautic science and engineering at Beihang University in Beijing.
Dafang told the South China Morning Post there were “a number of hypersonic wind tunnels in mainland China which had helped ensure the high success rate of its hypersonic weapon tests,” and that the new wind tunnel would be “one of the most powerful and advanced ground test facilities for hypersonic vehicles in the world.”
“This is definitely good news for us. I look forward to its completion,” he told the publication.