Here’s a curious fact – a single raindrop can create a load equal to the weight of an elephant, if hit by a hypersonic aircraft at Mach (8 eight times the speed of sound). Now, imagine several of these” elephants ” weighing a hypersonic vehicle. As Michael Kinzel, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Central Florida explains, this is what happens when a vehicle flying at such high speeds passes through seemingly harmless rain.
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Kinzel is a co-researcher on a new $1 million project that is funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and led by Boston University in the United States. Kinzel and Subith Vasu, a professor in the same UFC department, will work alongside the Boston University team. It may seem mind-boggling that this amount of money and three years are devoted to studying the impact of raindrops on aircraft and hypersonic rockets. But it turns out these little guys can be just as harmful as conventional enemies.
Because of hypersonic speeds (Mach 5 and above), colliding with raindrops can cause serious damage to the aircraft. The project team will study how raindrops are affected when passing through what is called “ hypersonic shock wave” and, in turn, this data will be used to improve the design of hypersonic vehicles and predict when they should fly.
Basically, the researchers want to determine the safest ways that hypersonic travel can be conducted through rain, as well as the best way to design these vehicles, for structural integrity. This will improve the accuracy of hypersonic rockets launched by rain or severe storms, according to Kinzel, but the applications will be much broader, including space exploration.
This research is of utmost importance as the US Air Force is involved in several hypersonic projects. Recently, started testing hypersonic flights for cargo delivery, using the massive Roc carrier aircraft that can deploy multiple Talon-A hypersonic vehicles at once.
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