A peep into China's Mach-25 wind tunnel. Photo: China Central Television screen grab

China is wrapping up construction of the world’s most high-speed wind tunnel to test a future hypersonic spaceplane capable of traveling at a whopping theoretical speed of Mach 25, or 30,625km/h, 25 times the speed of sound.

To put that speed in perspective, passengers on board such an adrenaline-inducing flight could be hurled from Beijing to New York City, some 11,000 kilometers apart, in a little over 20 minutes. Currently non-stop commercial flights using Boeing 777s take more than 13 hours to complete that journey.

Though flying at such an awesome velocity still sounds like something in the distant future, with a slim probability of becoming operable in any time soon, China is still determined to splurge on a state-of-art, 265-meter wind tunnel tailor-made to test aircraft, which is arguably one of the largest in its category globally.

The massive hypersonic wind tunnel soon to be inaugurated at the Chinese Academy of Sciences is being touted by state media as another milestone of China’s research and development of cutting-edge facilities. Photo: China Central Television screen grab
The wind tunnel is 265 meters in length. Photo: China Central Television screen grab

Installation of a continuous, closed-circuit wind tunnel remains a costly affair. Technologically, the term “hypersonic wind tunnel” refers to flow fields of Mach 5 or above.

The cutting-edge facility is being built at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Laboratory of High Temperature Gas Dynamics.

Han Guilai, a CAS researcher, said the institution’s current wind tunnel could simulate flights ranging from Mach 5 to 9.

“The new tunnel will aid the aerodynamic research application of hypersonic technology by duplicating the environment of extreme hypersonic flights. Once issues are discovered during these ground tests, like aerodynamic forces, pressure distribution, they will be ironed out before test flights begin,” Han said.

A plane model undergoing test in a wind tunnel. Photo: China Central Television screen grab

There are suspicions that such wind tunnels can also test new hypersonic fighters, ballistic missiles, and space vehicles re-entering the atmosphere.

Other than for testing new planes such as its indigenous Comac C919 airliner, China also needs more wind tunnels purpose-built to ascertain wind forces and distribution now that more – and ever-taller – skyscrapers are springing up across the nation than anywhere else.

China’s bourgeoning automobile industry has also emerged as another key investor in wind tunnels as domestic carmakers need to fine-tune design and fuel consumption before rolling out their new models, according to Xinhua.

Wind tunnels move air around objects, making it seem like the objects are flying. Spacecraft engineers use them to test prototypes as well as structural integrity for various spacecraft designs.

Meanwhile, China has also made advances in computational fluid dynamics modeling on the strength of its supercomputers.

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