A new so-called hypersonic jet could reduce journey times between Beijing and New York from 14 hours to just two.

The plane would fly at hypersonic speeds of up to 3,728mph. That’s around five times faster than the speed of sound.

In a report published in Science China Press, researcher Cui Kai, one member of a team who’ve been working on hypersonic flight in China, said:

“It will take only a couple of hours to travel from Beijing to New York at hypersonic speed.”

The team working on the plane design are also working on hypersonic weaponry for the Chinese government according to the South China Morning Post. So far, the technology has allegedly only been tested in a wind tunnel at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

A scaled down version of the plane design was reportedly successfully tested in the wind tunnel at speeds of around 5,350mph.

The hypersonic jet has been dubbed the I-Plane due to the shadow it casts on the ground in flight. The design of the plane is quite unusual; two wings placed on top of each other, similar to a WWII biplane.

The first set of wings reach forward from the aircraft’s fuselage. A second flat wing sits on top of the aircraft reaching backwards. At hypersonic speeds, the report says, the double layer of wings reduce turbulence and drag.

This is hugely important at hypersonic speeds because drag is created not by the air but by the waves the plane itself makes.

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What was said:

The South China Morning Post spoke to an unnamed researcher familiar with the project who explained that the device would soon move onto field tests. That researcher confirmed that the plane could be used either as a military device or as a passenger aircraft:

“We’re talking about something like a hypersonic heavy bomber.

“It’s a crazy design, but somehow they’ve managed to make it work.”

The researcher also explained that the plane is part of China’s plan to emerge as a serious competitor to the US in terms of hypersonic technology. He also suggested this plane could be the first in a family of hypersonic aircraft:

“This will require original rather than knock-off designs.

“It could lead to a huge step forward in hypersonic technology.”

Why it matters:

The entire appeal of hypersonic flight, especially in military use, is that these craft could potentially enter enemy airspace, drop bombs or do reconnaissance work, then fly away before enemies have a chance to react.

Obviously, there are also implications for travel if hypersonic technology improves too. Still, it might be a while off. This latest hypersonic jet is said to only be able to carry around 50 passengers . A standard Boeing 737, which is about the same size as China’s hypersonic jet can carry around 200 passengers.

The small payload is due to the fact that hypersonic travel creates a huge amount of heat. In some cases this can exceed 1,000 degrees Celsius. As a result, hypersonic aircraft must carry a huge amount of liquid coolant to push the potentially deadly heat out of the aircraft.

Background:

US aeronautics company Lockheed Martin has been working on hypersonic aircraft for years now.

According to Bloomberg, the company is working on an updated version of the now-retired SR-71, a cold war plane which was formerly one of the fastest in the world.

The company announced its early success with the project in June 2017. In September 2017, the plane design was rumoured to have been spotted in a field test, according to Aviation Weekly.

However, according to all the reports, the American hypersonic jet (dubbed SR-72) will fly at 4,600mph.