Illustration of scramjet hypersonic propulsion engine design by UCF, which will be used to investigate the flow conditions and the adaptive morphing engine control system designs.

New DOD-funded Project Will Develop Morphing Hypersonic Engine

By: Office of Research on

A new Naval Research Laboratory-funded project led by a UCF researcher will work to create a morphing hypersonic engine for ultra-fast travel, building on UCF’s already leading-edge developing hypersonic propulsion.

Hypersonic propulsion would allow for air travel at speeds of Mach 6 to 17, or more than 4,600 to 13,000 mph, and has applications in commercial and space travel. Although the technology has been around since the 1960s, countries including the U.S., Russia, and China, are racing to improve the systems to achieve more efficient and longer, more sustained hypersonic flight.

The $450,000 Naval Research Laboratory grant-funded project will develop a hypersonic engine that can morph or transform its configuration during flights to optimize performance.

“Most hypersonic engines are structurally fixed due to the challenging flight environment,” says the project’s principal investigator Kareem Ahmed, a professor in UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “Our research will show the performance gains from an adaptable engine configuration that would self-optimize its surfaces to maximize performance power, thrust, and travel distance which is the first of its kind for hypersonic engines.”

Photo of Kareem Ahmed
UCF Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Kareem Ahmed

Ahmed is a leading researcher in the field of hypersonics, achieving the first stabilized and sustained rotating detonation wave for hypersonic travel and heading a $1.5 million U.S. Department of Defense award to develop high-performance fuels for hypersonic propulsion.

This new research project is based on Ahmed’s work on “scramjet”, or supersonic combustion ramjet engines. The key feature of a scramjet engine is its ability to combust air at supersonic speeds without slowing it down to subsonic speeds, as is done in traditional jet engines.

Ahmed and his research team have developed an aerothermodynamic model for the hypersonic, morphing scramjet engine and are currently in the stage of experimental testing it to assess its performance. Aerothermodynamics analyzes the interaction of gases at high speeds and elevated temperatures.

“We are very happy to be selected for the program,” Ahmed says. “Our lab has been a leader and innovator in high-speed and hypersonic propulsion and this program gives our group the opportunity to contribute and make an impact.”

Ahmed joined UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, part of UCF’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, in 2014. He is also a faculty member of the Center for Advanced Turbomachinery and Energy Research and the Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion. He served more than three years as a senior aero/thermo engineer at Pratt & Whitney military engines working on advanced engine programs and technologies. He also served as a faculty member at Old Dominion University and Florida State University. At UCF, he is leading research in propulsion and energy with applications for power generation and gas-turbine engines, propulsion-jet engines, hypersonics, and fire safety, as well as research related to supernova science and COVID-19 transmission control. He earned his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He is an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics associate fellow and a U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and Office of Naval Research faculty fellow.

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