Aeronautical Engineering/Hypersonic aircraft


QUESTION: Professor--

I'm writing a speculative fiction novel involving a man who acquires superpowers, like Superman.  No science there, I know, but other details I want to keep accurate as reasonable possible.

Early on in the plot, he accidently kills several people, and he decides to face the music, so to speak.  The judge offers to reduce the sentence if he cooperates with the military.

The U.S. military plans to use him in a quick reaction force that can be inserted from a base in the U.S.  world-wide in a few hours, i.e., since the guy is flight capable like Superman (but not a soldier), they want to use him to "propel" an aerial transport, with the soldiers inside, at a speed of 4000 mph or so. By strapping in to the pilot's seat, suitable reinforced?

The thing is, they want the transport to achieve these speeds at low altitudes, one kilometer or so. :)

Is it possible using today's tech to build such a craft?  Propulsion method is obviously not needed. Lift is a minor concern.  But structurally speaking, can the craft be built today?  Some idea what it would look like would be most helpful, too. :)



ANSWER: Interesting thoughts...  :)

Well, I'd say that certainly a vehicle with such performance could be built...  The primary issue that one would have to contend with is aerodynamic heating (and the fact that everyone below the path of the vehicle may be maimed or killed)...  to deal with the aeroheating you could envision a heat shield of sorts (because there's no way the vehicle skin could be made to withstand that torture for an extended timeframe), plus you'd end up cooking the folks inside the vehicle... the shock way created by the vehicle would reek havoc on those below...

On the other hand if you have given the character superpowers, maybe he can move matter at a distance or with some sort of visual beam (like sight)...  then he could cause all of the air surrounding the body to move out of the way in the front and then return to it's original location in the back (basically creating a vacuum (or void) in front suitable to propel the vehicle as well as not create the shocks I mentioned...  fanciful idea (not possible at present) but if we could suitably "control" matter at a distance, one could potentially do what I described....

Also, maybe he utilizes the surrounding air's internal energy (temperature) as a source of power, hence the vehicle leaves a "trail" of extremely cold air behind it

Just some thoughts...


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Ingenious ideas; I might have to steal them.;) Moving the air out of the way reminds me of the Alcubierre warp drive.  FTL.  Cool.

Right now I have as his powers flight, invulnerability, super strength, super speed.  Just the basics, which I feel are enough for now, 'tho that could change<grin>.  If he can't pull something off like above, he just can't.  People are killed, funds are wasted, ergo he gets into more trouble, the populace wants him gone... making more story line possibilities, eh?

Since the protagonist can bench Kilimanjaro, weight of the (reusable hyper craft is no concern.  Could you use a metal like osmium or iridium or alloys of both for the structure and say, a one inch thick skin?  Maybe a ceramic coating for the heat?  Though it may be difficult to machine and be very expensive to boot, the gov's paying the tab.

Had another thought--an alternate scenario.  He needs to fly the contraption to Malaysia--almost 9000 miles and a couple hours.  Instead he takes the craft straight up at just under mach one to ~20 mi, goes to 4000mph up to what? 400,000 ft? flies horizontally 'til he's over Asia, reverses that order to land the spec ops team.

Maybe take the exotic metal route (because of the high melting point), but that still leaves the "effects" on the ground to contend with...  damage and lack of stealth...

Also, whether or not the material can stand the temp, that heat will be transmitted to the interior unless there is some form of "insulation" because 2 hours in the oven is gonna cook something (or somebody)...  e.g. reentry usually only lasts're looking at hours...
the ship could be built somewhat like a thermos (metal outer skin able to withstand the heat with an evacuated cavity then the inner payload/cargo bay)...  just more thoughts...

Although your alternate solves both problems, it's nearly standard operating procedure (like a ballistic missile) only the superhero is the source of propulsion...

Interesting discussion,

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Mark Janus


I can answer questions about aerodynamics (high speed and low speed), internal fluid flow, computational methods (CFD, some design, etc.)


25+ Aerospace Engineering, University Professor

Mississippi State University AIAA SIAM


PhD Aerospace Engineering

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