China advances hypersonic propulsion technologies

The Dongfeng-17 (DF-17).

A Beijing-based research institute run by the national Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) has claimed a successful ground test of a scramjet engine that lasted 600 seconds, according to an official statement that has since been removed from its website but reported widely by authoritative local media.

World Record broken?

According to CAS’ Institute of Mechanics (IMCAS), a prototype scramjet built by a team led by the Princeton-educated scientist Fan Xuejun broke the current world record of 210 seconds of continuous scramjet engine burn held by the United States with its X-51A waverider prototype in May 2013.

A scramjet had accelerated the X-51A to a final speed of Mach 5.1 before the craft’s fuel load was expended and glided to a programmed impact in the Pacific Ocean.

China’s Technologies

Local reports indicated that Fan, an expert in special fuels and engine cooling technologies, had also been instrumental in the construction of China’s first test facility for active cooling technologies in Beijing’s Huairou district. The district is also home to the Huairou Science City, which is expected to support the country’s leading public and private technology research and development organisations.

Scramjets, an abbreviation for supersonic combustion ramjets, are propulsion systems that can enable aircraft to achieve speeds in the hypersonic range – defined as more than Mach 5.

TBCC Engines

China is also developing turbine-based combined cycle (TBCC) engines that can be used during the launch and hypersonic phases of flight, although the challenges of thermal management have yet to be fully addressed.

However, it appears that the country has made significant strides on hypersonic-capable precooled aerospace engine technology with the influential Beihang University – previously known as the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (BUAA) – leading the charge and securing a National Award for Excellence in Innovation nomination in May.


The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has operationalised a hypersonic glide weapon called the DongFeng-17 (DF-17), which was revealed to the public for the first time at the national day military parade in Beijing in October 2019.

by Jr Ng