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A New Era for Aircraft
Aviation experts expect that today's aircraft will begin to be replaced with some new form of supersonic transport by the year 2000. A 21-st century hypersonic aircraft may open a new age of aircraft design.
The designers of this country displayed the project of such a supersonic passenger liner among the prospective models at the latest Aerospace Salon held on the old Le Bourget airfield in Paris. An elongated fuselage with a sharp nose and without a horizontal stabilizer makes it look more like a rocket. The speed matches the looks. This plane will fly at a speed five to six times above the speed of sound, e.g., it will cover the distance between Tokyo and Moscow in less than two hours. The diameter of the fuselage will be 4 meters and the overall length 100 meters, with the cabin accomodating 300 passengers. The future superplanes of such a class will have no windows, but the passengers can enjoy watching the panorama of the Earth on the TV monitor at the front of the cabin. They will fly so fast that ordinary aircraft windows would make the structure too weak to withstand the stresses at such a speed. At high velocities the air resistance in the lower atmosphere is so great that the skin is heated to very high temperature. The only way out is to fly higher. Therefore, airliners' routes will mainly lie in the stratosphere.
In general, to build a reliable hypersonic plane one has to overcome a whole set of technological and scientific difficulties. Apart from creating highly economical combined engines and heat-insulating materials, designers have to make such an amount of thermodynamic computations that can't be performed without using supercomputers. One of the ways to make planes as economical as possible is lightening the aircraft by substituting new composite materials for conventional metal alloys. Accounting for less than 5 per cent of the overall aircraft weight, the percentage of composite material parts will exceed 25 per cent in new generation models. An extensive use of new materials combined with better aerodynamics and engines will allow increasing fuel efficiency by one-third.
Because of the extreme temperatures generated by atmosphere friction, a hypersonic craft will also require complicated cooling measures. One possibility is using cryogenic fuels, such as liquid hydrogen, as both coolants and propellants. The fuel flowing through the aircraft's skin , would cool the surfaces as it vaporizes before being injected into combustion chamber.
In addition, specialists in many countries are currently working on new propeller engines considered much more economical and less noisy than jets. The only disadvantage is that propeller planes fly slower than jet planes. However, it has recently been announced that specialists succeeded in solving this problem. As a result a ventilator engine with a propeller of ten fibre-glass blades has been built, each being five meters long. It will be mounted in the experimental passenger plane.
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