Notre Dame is one step closer to hypersonic aircraft travel

On Friday, Notre Dame celebrated a grand opening for their large hypersonic quiet tunnel. Hypersonic means five times faster than the speed of sound. Specifically, this wind tunnel is going to create wind speeds six times the speed of sound in order to simulate airflow around a hypersonic aircraft.

Hypersonic wind tunnels are not a new technology, but this wind tunnel is now the largest and the quietest, which will allow more advanced research and development of hypersonic aircraft. With a larger size, researchers will be able to test bigger aircraft models of different shapes, which will better simulate the flight conditions. They will test long slender models with cone and cylinder shapes and rounded models.

Much of the funding is coming from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Thomas Corke, a Clark Chair Professor at Notre Dame, explains, "Probably the first application of this will not be aircraft that carry people. It will be drones, so unmanned aircraft, or missiles."

With the low noise level on the inside, the tunnel will create an environment most similar to atmospheric flight. Of course, any aircraft traveling six times faster than the speed of sound will heat up, and even burn up. Researchers will use this new wind tunnel to learn how to predict and minimize the heating of the aircraft.

Corke emphasizes that “in order to accurately predict that heating, you have to have a wind tunnel with the characteristics of this one, it has to be a quiet wind tunnel in order to predict that property, and if you get it wrong, the aircraft will burn up. So you must do this type of facility testing in order to be specific." 

This is the most advanced wind tunnel of its kind. Corke showed enthusiasm at the grand opening, stating, "it starts out as a design, it starts out as drawings, and then to see the drawings become actual physical objects, and then to see the objects connect together, it's pretty exciting."

This is just the beginning of the project. Researchers from Notre Dame and Purdue will build several more quiet hypersonic wind tunnels in coming years. More will come out of the project than just hypersonic drones and missiles. There are hopes that a commercial airplane can be developed, which would bring commuters from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles in twenty-three minutes.

Share this article: