The Defence Research and Development Laboratory here has begun work on a next-generation aircraft that would fly at hypersonic speeds, that is, seven to ten times faster than the speed of present aircraft. This aircraft would be four times faster than the Concorde, which used to fly between London and New York.
This means that once this aircraft is operational, a Hyderabad-Delhi flight that takes two hours now would be completed in about 15 to 20 minutes. The premier laboratory is home to the nation’s prestigious missile programme which includes the Brahmos, Prithvi, Akash, Trishul, Nag and Astra. “This month, we have established a sophisticated engine test complex to test the engine on the ground,” DRDL director Mr Prahalad told The Statesman. This computerised system would test 10 engines in the next one and a half years.
“Engines would be made here. We are in the process of developing them,” he added.
Presently, supersonic aircraft fly at around 1,000 km per hour at an altitude of 10 km.
He said his aim was to fly at hypersonic speeds, that is, above 4,500 km per hour. Or perhaps even higher. “I want to fly at least at 7,000 km per hour at an altitude of 30 km,” Mr Prahalad said.
Towards this end, Mr Prahalad has constituted a specialist core team comprising 35 of the DRDL’s best scientists. One fifty more are directly associated with the project. This team is already in the process of working out the aerodynamics, structures, engines, materials, needed for this aircraft to take off.
These elements are absolutely critical as hypersonic speeds cause rapid increase in temperatures because of the air flowing to the aircraft’s surface at several times the speed of sound.
“We are developing the technology needed to create a situation where hypersonic speeds are a reality. For this, both the science and the technology have to work. We are focussing on aerodynamics and system engineering,” Mr Prahalad explained.
Only three other countries — USA, China and Russia — are actively pursuing this concept.
“One of these four countries (including India) will succeed first,” he said. Given that the project is in its initial stage, Mr Prahalad refused to speculate on the costs involved. “There is sufficient money for research and development,” he said.