The aerospace industry is pushing the boundaries of 3D printing (and physics) with the development of hypersonic aircraft. Hypersonic aircraft are capable of traveling at speeds of Mach 5 or higher, and rely on scramjet engines that compress the air that passes through them at high speeds.
The technology has drawn interest from start-ups, such as Hermeus Corp., which recently passed a major milestone with the successful testing of its ramjet-turbojet engine, dubbed the Chimera. The engine is a Turbine Based Combined Cycle (TBCC) engine, which is a hybrid between a turbojet and a ramjet, capable of taking off from a normal runway and accelerating up to hypersonic speeds.
To produce the Chimera and Quarterhorse (a hypersonic aircraft), Hermeus built a vertically integrated factory in Atlanta, using AM metal to rapidly produce complex metal parts, with approximately 15% of the Chimera engine made up of printed components.
Metal additive manufacturing allows aerospace engineers to produce increasingly complex parts and components (such as those with internal cooling channels) while increasing performance, consolidating components, reducing aircraft weight, and minimizing external dependencies. .
“The TBCC engine is unique in the field of hypersonics,” says Glenn Case, Hermeus’ CTO. “Most hypersonic platforms are powered by a rocket engine. But this approach makes reuse much more difficult and inherently more dangerous for passenger flights.”
“An additional benefit of this engine design is that it fits into existing transportation infrastructure. [Our] the aircraft are designed to be operational at traditional airports. This is important, not just for hypersonic testing, but critical given [our] goal of radically accelerating passenger travel through hypersonic flight.
Hermeus engineers are using advanced materials such as Inconel 718 and titanium to produce engines, airframes and wings that can withstand intense heat, shock waves and vibrations. Despite the challenges, the technology has the potential to revolutionize passenger travel, allowing passengers to cross the Atlantic Ocean in less than two hours and the Pacific Ocean in less than three hours, while cruising comfortably at 95,000 feet.
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