Supersonic combustion air heater

Device designed for testing variable supersonic to hypersonic speeds in a ground facility

Military Technology

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Powered by its scramjet engine, the X-51A will accelerate to approximately Mach 6 as it climbs to nearly 70,000 feet. The associated thrusts and burn are difficult to test in ground-based facilities. U.S. Air Force photo/Chad Bellay

Missiles that can fly at hypersonic speeds (over 4 times the speed of sound) for many minutes have a future Naval need to increase standoff distances and reduce the time to impact on time-critical targets. To be feasible these missiles must use air-breathing propulsion systems that depend upon both subsonic and supersonic combustion to produce thrust for part of their flight. It is further envisioned that future missile systems will be required to fly at speeds that cover a wide range of Mach numbers. For example, a single vehicle’s speed might vary from Mach 3 to 8 during a single flight.

Hypersonic missiles will have to utilize both ramjet and scramjet technologies and constructs during a single flight to reach both high speeds and long-range capabilities and transition between the different modes of combustion will be required. Ground test facilities will be required that can simulate variable Mach number air flows to test these future vehicles. These facilities typically depend upon combustion heated air accelerated through a high-speed free jet nozzle to simulate flight-like conditions but the ability to vary the free jet Mach number by 1 or 2 Mach numbers during a single test does not currently exist for these high temperatures (>1200°K).

To meet the needs of testing and simulating variable Mach speeds, the Navy has developed a supersonic combustion heater that can vary the Mach numbers at the exit plane to enable mode transition in future air-breathing propulsion systems to be tested. Heat addition is accomplished through fuel injectors which enhances kinetics, produces an increased high enthalpy flow source, enhances flame stability, improves mixing between fuel and air, and shortens chemical ignition delay.

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