China Successfully Tests First Experimental Superfast Hypersonic Aircraft

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China has successfully developed and tested a cutting-edge hypersonic aircraft that rides its own shock waves. The China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics here announced that the first flight-test of its Starry Sky 2-which it calls the nation’s first hypersonic experimental waverider vehicle was conducted last week at an unidentified testing field in northwestern China. The test was a huge success.

Launched in a rocket, China’s waverider was released in the air after about 10 minutes. It flew independently, made large-angle turning maneuvers, and landed in the targeted area as planned. The flight vehicle reached 30 kms in altitude at Mach 5.5-6 for more than 400 seconds and reached Mach 6-7,344 km/h. The hypersonic aircraft was designed by the CAAA in collaboration with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

Waverider is a flight vehicle that flies in the atmosphere and uses shockwaves generated by its own hypersonic flight with the air to glide at high speed. Various parameters were proved and the flight vehicle was fully recovered, which marks the successful launch of Starry Sky-2 and the first flight of a Chinese waverider. Announcing the successful test to the public indicates that China have already made a technological breakthrough with the weapon.

The United States and Russia have been carrying out similar experiments. The US tested an experimental waverider from 2010 to 2013 that was designed to reach Mach 6. Tagged as the fastest aircraft ever built, the US HTV-2-which was not a waverider-achieved a record speed of Mach 20, or 24,480 km/h, during its first flight in April 2010. The fastest manned aircraft in service is the Russian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25, which boasts a maximum speed of 3,470 km/h.

The waverider is expected to be tested more frequently in future before being handed over for deployment to the People’s Liberation Army. The current generation of anti-missile defence systems is mainly designed to intercept cruise and ballistic missiles. In addition to its military use, the hypersonic flight vehicle may also see civil use in the future.

If the hypersonic technology matures, it may see other applications including industrial transport. China whose defence budget this year amounted to USD 175 billion is investing heavily in defence research and development to catch-up with US, Russia and European Union.