Fundamental research hailed as new horizon in hypersonic flight

Fundamental research hailed as new horizon in hypersonic flight Fundamental research hailed as new horizon in hypersonic flight

November 13, 20182 min read


Cutline: Mohamed Gad-el-Hak, Ph.D., professor emeritus in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering. (Photo courtesy of the VCU College of Engineering)

Mohamed Gad-el-Hak, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus in VCU’s Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, together with investigators at the University of Peking, China, has revealed an aerodynamic heating mechanism that sheds new light on the behavior of ultra-high-speed aircraft.

        Their discovery comes as news outlets including CBS, CNN and the Washington Post are reporting on the tightening race among China, the U.S. and Russia for dominance in hypersonic systems, aircraft and weapons that travel more than five times the speed of sound.

        Researchers previously thought sudden heat spikes, which make hypersonic flight impractical for many applications, occur when air flows reach maximum turbulence. However, Gad-el-Hak and his collaborators have demonstrated through theory, experiments and numerical simulations that temperatures actually jump just before turbulence sets in. The National Science Review has called their achievement “a major progression in hypersonic transition.” The American Institute of Physics said this investigation denotes “a new horizon” for future studies of hypersonic heating phenomena.

       The discovery is expected to accelerate applied military and commercial hypersonic research for the design of future spacecraft, intercontinental ballistic missiles and hypersonic vehicles. Gad-el-Hak emphasizes that such applications result from fundamental research. Unlike applied investigations, which set out to solve practical problems, fundamental research seeks to improve scientific understanding of the natural world.

        “I have two unflinching scholarly beliefs,” Gad-el-Hak said. “Fundamental science eventually, albeit in fits and starts, leads to a nation’s health, happiness and prosperity, and ‘walls’ between nations hinder that progress.”


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  • Mohamed Gad-el-Hak, Ph.D.
    Mohamed Gad-el-Hak, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering

    Fluid mechanics expert, with a penchant for nanotechnology and microelectromechanical systems

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