Reports are coming in from China that progress is being made in the development of a rotary detonation engine [RDE]. The Twitter account @RupprechtDeino, who also follows China’s military industry, says that Chongqing University’s Industrial Technology Research Institute has already tested a prototype of this engine.
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The source cited a report from a local news network. The test aircraft, which is actually a scale model of the Soviet-Russian Su-34 fighter bomber, has flown with the prototype engine attached. However, the source did not say whether the engine test was successful and met the minimum requirements.
According to unconfirmed information, this engine has also been tested on other Russian fighter jet platforms, but mostly in wind tunnels. The latest test conducted by Chongqing University’s Industrial Technology Research Institute was likely the first on the runway and in the sky.
Such a detonation engine designed for fighter jets works on the principle of detonation waves. Detonation waves are supersonic shock waves that result from the rapid combustion of fuel-air mixtures.
In a conventional jet engine, combustion occurs at subsonic speeds, but in a rotary detonation engine, combustion takes place at supersonic speeds, resulting in more efficient and powerful propulsion.
The engine consists of a rotor with a series of combustion chambers. Each combustion chamber contains a fuel-air mixture that is ignited by a spark plug.
As the rotor spins, the detonation waves propagate through the combustion chambers, causing rapid and efficient combustion. The resulting high-pressure gases are then expelled through a nozzle, providing thrust for the fighter jet.
The key advantage
The key advantage of the rotary detonation engine [RDE] is its ability to achieve higher combustion efficiencies compared to conventional jet engines. By utilizing detonation waves, the engine can achieve complete combustion of the fuel-air mixture in a shorter amount of time, resulting in increased power output.
Additionally, the engine’s compact design and high power-to-weight ratio make it suitable for fighter jets, where space and weight are crucial considerations.
However, there are still challenges to overcome in the development of rotary detonation engines. Achieving stable and controlled detonation waves, as well as managing the high temperatures and pressures generated during combustion, are areas of ongoing research.
Nevertheless, the potential benefits of this technology, including improved fuel efficiency and increased thrust, make it an exciting area of exploration for future fighter jet propulsion.
Su-57 and J-20
The most suitable fighter for Russia that can gain an advantage in the use of a rotary detonation engine [RDE] is the Sukhoi Su-57. It is equipped with advanced avionics and weapon systems, making it a perfect platform for incorporating new engine technologies like the rotary detonation engine.
The Su-57’s high maneuverability and speed, combined with the increased efficiency and power output of a rotary detonation engine, would give it a significant advantage in terms of performance and combat effectiveness.
In China, the most suitable fighter that can gain an advantage in the use of a rotary detonation engine is the Chengdu J-20. With its large size and powerful engines, the J-20 has the potential to accommodate a rotary detonation engine, which could further enhance its performance. The J-20’s combination of stealth capabilities, long-range strike capabilities, and the increased efficiency of a rotary detonation engine would make it a formidable force in air combat scenarios.
The choice of the Su-34 leads to a Russian trail
It remains a mystery why this engine was tested on a scale model of the Russian Su-34 fighter bomber. Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, the explanation below will perhaps shed more light on the reasons.
One of the key benefits of integrating an RDE into the Su-34 is the potential for increased fuel efficiency. This means that the Su-34 would be able to fly longer distances or carry heavier payloads without the need for additional fuel. This extended range and increased payload capacity would greatly enhance the aircraft’s operational capabilities.
In addition to improved fuel efficiency, the integration of an RDE could also lead to enhanced speed and acceleration for the Su-34. This increased thrust would enable the Su-34 to achieve higher speeds and accelerate more quickly, providing the aircraft with greater tactical flexibility and responsiveness in combat scenarios.
Furthermore, the integration of an RDE could potentially reduce the Su-34’s radar signature, making it less detectable by enemy radar systems. RDEs have the potential to produce a more stable and uniform combustion process, resulting in a more consistent exhaust plume.
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