China announces completion of hypersonic wind tunnel

For illustration, a wingtip vortex in a subsonic wind tunnel at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the US (BenFrantzDale/CC BY-SA 3.0)
China has completed work on a wind tunnel that can simulate the air resistance encountered by a plane or missile travelling at speeds of up to 2.7 kilometres per second, or eight times the speed of sound.

The FL-64 wind tunnel was built by the state-owned Aviation Industry Corp of China (AVIC) in two years. According to a report in the Global Times, the 1m-diameter tube has passed its first calibration test, which means that it is ready to begin “supporting the development of hypersonic weapons and equipment”.

Hypersonic speeds – those above five times the speed of sound – are being explored by military scientists around the world. The aim is to create missiles that cannot be shot down by defence systems. Civil and military aerospace companies are also working on hypersonic aircraft.

However, an object travelling at these speeds meets unusual effects in the surrounding air, including extremely high temperatures. This means that the tunnel had to be able to deal with temperatures of around 630 degrees Celsius and simulate flights at heights of up to 48km.

AVIC said the tunnel could operate for more than 30 seconds, “testing a hypersonic aircraft’s capabilities including the separation and deployment of weapons from the aircraft”.

The company noted: “The FL-64 aims to resolve the urgent aerodynamic problems that various aircraft are facing, and it will become another important tool in supporting the development of hypersonic weapons and equipment.”

China is also building the JF-22 “hypervelocity” wind tunnel that can simulate a speed of Mach 30. Construction is expected to finish in 2022, it was reported in August.

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