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From New York to LA in 30 minutes? UCF discovery could be key to hypersonic travel

Discovery could help manage intense fires, massive explosions, develop aircraft

ORLANDO, Fla. – Flames similar to those in a candle or campfire could be turned into hypersonic flames for aircraft that would allow people to travel from New York to Los Angeles in 30 minutes, according to recent discovery from the University of Central Florida Propulsion and Energy Research Lab.

UCF Aerospace engineering professor Kareem Ahmed and his research team found that commonly used flames can be turned into a supersonic energy source using something called "turbulent mixing."

No, that's not what happens when your commercial flight hits turbulent weather. The technique concerts a regular flame into a self-sustaining explosion that uses all the ingested fuel and air to release a massive amount of energy. 

To make these discoveries at the UCF Propulsion and Energy Research Lab, " the team measured flame speeds in a turbulent shock tube using a high-speed laser and camera diagnostics," according to UCF. 

Ahmed and his team were recognized with an award for his findings by The Combustion Institute at the 37th International Symposium on Combustion, a first for UCF. Now, the team's "Compressible turbulent flame speeds of highly turbulent standing flames" paper is a finalist for the Silver Combustion Medal, which will be announced in July 2020.

"This new discovery is key for using these high-Mach fast flames for hypersonic air-breathing scramjet propulsion engines, a specific type of engine that can propel an aircraft to five times the speed of sound and above,” Ahmed said. “And it will aid in fighting intense fires and explosions.”

What does this mean for you? The UCF research team's findings could lead to engines and aircraft that would make traveling from coast to coast in under an hour possible and provide new techniques to manager intense wildfires and massive explosions.   

Jonathan Sosa, a mechanical and aerospace engineering doctoral student who co-authored the paper with Ahmed and fellow doctoral student Jessica Chambers, explains that what they find in the lab at UCF can be applied to real-life fire management.

"These laboratory-scale experiments are capable of providing crucial information on the flame behavior for the advancement and design of hypersonic vehicles as well as providing new insight into how these fast flames propagate to deter flame propagation leading to explosions,” Sosa said.

Can humans go that fast? UCF said more research is needed to determine the effects of traveling at the speed of sound on the human body.  


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