UVa Students Work On Super-Fast Engine

By: Whitney Holmes Email
By: Whitney Holmes Email

February 21, 2007

Right now, a flight from New York to Los Angeles takes about five hours, but a group of engineering students involved in the Hy-V project at the University of Virginia are working on an engine that could cut that flight time to just 40 minutes.

"That's five times the speed of sound, so that's really fast. In fact, that's twice the speed of a bullet," Project Director, Professor Christopher Goyne explained.

It is really fast, but possible with a scramjet engine.

A scramjet engine is better than the engines before it, because it is leaner and lighter, making it cheaper and faster.

"Unlike a jet engine, there are no moving parts, so it is much more efficient at high speeds," explained Goyne. "And it is better than a commercial rocket engine because they don't have to carry an oxidizer on board."

The engine technology is being tested now using a one of a kind wind tunnel found at UVa, which simulates scramjet flying.

This tunnel is unique because it is the only one in the world that works like a giant hair dryer, using electricity to heat up air, which promises the most accurate data.

This data is then turned over to NASA.

"We have a close working relationship with them (NASA), where they will ask us for certain types of data and then we will go ahead and do the experiment and then share that data with them," Goyne said.

NASA then compares that data to its computer simulations and uses the results to improve their scramjet designs.

The final product will be tested with a flight in 2009 off Virginia's Eastern shore.

If all goes well, in less than 10 years, scramjets will be a reality.

"That will probably be the first application, a high speed missile, for military applications. And then further on there will be scramjets developed for civilian purposes and for flying into space."

Meaning, you could get from here, to the other side of the country in less than an hour.

If you want to find out more about the Hy-V program, there is an open house at UVa's School of Engineering and Applied Science Saturday, February 24th from 9am to 3pm.

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