In October China announced success in tests of their scramjet hypersonic experimental plane.
Probably there is no better summary of Chinese approaches to aerospace industry in recent years, than words of Professor Wang Zhenguo (National University of Defense Technology), one of nine winners of second Feng Ru awards (granted by Chinese Society for Aeronautics and Astronautics):
“The Chinese nation is no longer satisfied with living like a farmer who eyes nothing but his own piece of land and a family to raise. We are looking up into space now.”
Wang Zhenguo is project chief of new experimental hypersonic plane utilizing scramjet engine. Scramjet is type of jet engine used in hypersonic planes (with speed around 10 – 24 Ma). It utilizes air flowing with supersonic speed mixed with kerosene. Main disadvantage of present scramjets is necessity of reaching high speed before engine becomes effective (around 5 Ma). China Aviation News announced in article from 18th September 2015, that successful test of combined jet/scramjet engine was finished. It means that one engine would be able ensure propulsion before reaching velocity necessary to switch into scramjet mode. Scramjets could be considered as possible propulsion for two-stage-to-orbit spaceplanes. Such concept was presented and patented by Boeing in 1989 as SSME; first stage was designed as reusable jet lifter with capability of starting and landing on runways. Second stage was planned as scramjet or rocket propulsion orbiter. Scramjet engine was also proposed for X30, hyperspeed experimental aircraft with possible availability for reaching LEO. At present, X51 designed by Boeing and equipped in scramjet propulsion, was successfully tested during test flight in 2013. In spite of success, X51 still remain prototype of weapon (maybe hypersonic drone or missile) under High Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW) program. It has no possibility (it was not intended for such purpose) for independent starting and landing. Chinese scramjet aircraft (actually without any official name) is rather prototype of plane. Possible it could be prototype of bomber – one of potentially utilizing scramjet engines project was already showed on 2010 at Zhuhai Airshow. It is also possible that scramjet engine will be only a step in a way to developing single-stage or two-stage-to-orbit spaceplane. China already drop tested Shenlong unmanned spaceplane in 2007, but it was not in possession of appropriate propulsion (it was speculated that installed engine was Russian D-30K turbofan engine). In future being in possession of engine operating in jet and scramjet modes will give China potential to develop aircrafts, missiles, drones or spaceplanes competitive to American civilian and military constructions.