High-speed project update

As promised, I come bearing the latest news about the nifty extracurricular project I’m working on with the High Speed Aircraft Club. Much was decided in my absence a couple weeks ago, so to sum it all up: we’ve decided on our structural materials, we’ve decided on our propulsion unit, we’ve decided our flight plan, and we’ve decided a rough shape for the vehicle itself.

F-104 Starfighter. Image courtesy Wikipedia; image is in the public domain under relevant law.

We’ll begin constructing our small test model in about a week using carbon fiber as the skin and some sort of foam to fill the volume. The design, which strongly resembles the F104 Starfighter (shown right), will incorporate a Haack body airframe design like most transonic aircraft. We are designing the plane around our recently selected propulsion unit, the JetCat P-200 turbine. According to the spec sheet, it generates 52 pounds of thrust and I’m told it has an exhaust speed well in excess of Mach, so it will be completely adequate to propel us to our design speed (we are debating between one and two turbines, but this remains to be seen). Our design constraints include a requirement that the plane weigh in under 100 pounds fully fueled, but we’re optimistically shooting for 80 pounds.

When the time comes to actually fly, we’ll be flying in a racetrack-like pattern (below): two 40-mile straightaways, connected by two U-turns. The plan is for the pilot to accelerate the vehicle for roughly 30 seconds at the start of the straightaway, break Mach 1, and continue accelerating to our design speed. After the vehicle reaches the maximum speed, we need to maintain speed for no less than 15 seconds. At the end of the straightaway, the plane will break into the turn at speed; assuming the five mile turn radius we discussed, the plane should experience roughly 10 Gs during the turn. Once the plane has reversed direction, the whole cycle repeats.

Finally, and most excitingly, I’ve volunteered to come up with the operations and support requirements for the vehicle. This document lays out the maintenance needs of the vehicle – things like how often the turbine needs to be serviced, how often the electrical components need to be replaced, how many flights can go by before the landing surface needs to be refinished, &c. While this may sound like insanely boring minutiae, it actually means that I will have a direct hand in coming up with the design constraints. That’s right – I’ve gone from wire-monkey to decision-maker. Aww, yeah.

A rough sketch of our proposed flight plan with dimensions.

We will gather and combine the design and ops documents during the meeting next week, after which time we’ll present them to our faculty adviser, and then presumably we’ll begin using them as the core of our fundraising efforts. Also, as I alluded to above, this coming Friday marks our first day of fabrication on the test model; all things considered, the week ahead is looking very promising.

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