March 10, 2011 - Aerospace engineering researchers and students at the University of Virginia are helping to create a hypersonic "scramjet" engine that can travel at five times the speed of sound - or 3,700 mph. That's about twice the speed of a bullet, and it's technology that could one day allow a plane to fly from New York to Los Angeles in just 40 minutes.
The research team is preparing to unveil a prototype of the scramjet engine, along with a two-stage sounding rocket, on the front lawn of Thornton Hall, home to the U.Va. School of Engineering and Applied Science. The ceremony will take place Monday at 1 p.m.
Faculty members and student researchers will explain details of the project and the scramjet engine technologies. Presenters will include Chris Goyne, research assistant professor of aerospace engineering and principal investigator for the project; Barry Johnson, senior associate dean for research at the Engineering School; and Ray Lee, a fourth-year aerospace engineering student and student program manager for the project.
On March 19 during the Engineering School's Annual Open House, [http://www.seas.virginia.edu/events/openhouse.php] the prototype will be displayed for the public in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Building, located along Engineer's Way.
The faculty and student researchers are part of the U.Va. Engineering School's hypersonic scramjet program, or "Hy-V" (pronounced "high-five"). Hy-V refers to the speed at which the jet will travel - a hypersonic speed of Mach 5 - and the "V" also pays homage to the commonwealth of Virginia.
"The Hy-V Program is very significant as it is the only current scramjet flight test program worldwide to include considerable levels of university student participation," Goyne said. "Hy-V provides an exceptional opportunity for U.Va. students to gain hands-on experience in state-of-the-art launch and flight studies."
The scramjet engine they are developing will be used in a 2012 flight test at the NASA-Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore. The launch will allow researchers to compare flight-test data with data that has been collected in various scramjet wind-tunnel experiments around the United States, including a wind tunnel at U.Va.'s Aerospace Research Laboratory. U.Va.'s wind tunnel is the only one of its kind in the country that can simulate Mach 5 conditions for several hours at a time.
Over the past four years, the Hy-V team has carried out the project in collaboration with the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, NASA, Virginia Tech, Aerojet, NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract, Alliant Techsystems Inc. and the U.S. Department of Defense.
Additionally, students from the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Boston helped build the prototype that will be unveiled Monday. The unfueled sounding rocket was supplied by NASA Wallops Flight Facility. In total, the unveiling will show 30 feet of aerospace hardware.
As an extension to the Hy-V Program, U.Va. has also recently entered into a formal research collaboration agreement with the Japanese space agency, JAXA, in order to facilitate complementary wind tunnel testing in Japan.