Hypersonic flight

The rockets green glare

A new fuel for jets and missiles is on the cards

 





May 15th 2021 | words 630

 

 

 

 

THE LATEST buzzword in the worlds aerospace skunk works is hypersonic. Speed and surprise have always been essential to warfare, and what better way to wrong-foot an enemy than by arriving unexpectedly on his doorstep in the form of an aircraft or missile travelling at Mach 5?

 

 

skunkworks

skunkworks / skkwkz; NAmE -wrkz / 

noun (pl. skunkworks)

(NAmE, informal) a small laboratory or department of a large company used for doing new scientific research or developing new products

(),, 

 

wrong-foot

wrong-'foot 

verb [VN]

(BrE) to put sb in a difficult or embarrassing situation by doing sth that they do not expect

It was an attempt to wrong-foot the opposition.   

 

 

In that context, a notice posted at the beginning of the year by Americas navy, soliciting proposals for a new research project, is intriguing. The projects objective is to determine a form of boron or a boron-based chemical pathway that leads to implementation of boron in energetic compounds, especially fuels (solid and liquid). The navys engineers, it seems, are trying to revive an idea that might make hypersonic flight easier to achieve, but which was tested and then abandoned more than half a century ago. They hope to spice up aviation and rocket fuel with a long-neglected element.

 

solicit

solicit / slisit / 

verb 

1. ~ sth (from sb) | ~ (sb) (for sth) (formal) to ask sb for sth, such as support, money, or information; to try to get sth or persuade sb to do sth

,():

They were planning to solicit funds from a number of organizations.   

 

Historians and critics are solicited for their opinions.   

 

to solicit for money  

 

 

intriguing

intriguing / intrigi / 

adj. 

very interesting because of being unusual or not having an obvious answer

These discoveries raise intriguing questions.   

 

an intriguing possibility   

 

He found her intriguing.   

 

intriguingly adv. 

 

boron

boron / brn; NAmE -rn / 

noun [U]

(symb B) a chemical element. Boron is a solid substance used in making steel alloys and parts for nuclear reactors .

 

 

 

Boron, atomic number five on the periodic table, is chemically a metalloidmeaning that it inhabits the debatable marcher lands between the empires of the metals proper, on the tables left-hand side, and the non-metals, on its right. Compounds of boron feature in washing powders and cleaning products (borax), antiseptics and water softeners, and also as additives in fibreglass, but such roles are humdrum. Boron does, though, burn like billy-o, generating a bright, green flame and releasing about 40% more energy per kilogram than conventional aviation fuel.

 

 

marcher

marcher / mt(r); NAmE mrt- / 

noun 

a person who is taking part in a march as a protest

SYN demonstrator 

 

feature

feature / fit(r) / 

verb 

1.  ~ (in sth) to have an important part in sth

olive oil and garlic feature prominently in his recipes.  

 

 

antiseptic

antiseptic / ntiseptik /

noun [C, U]

a substance that helps to prevent infection in wounds by killing bacteria

SYN disinfectant 

 

humdrum

humdrum / hmdrm / 

adj. 

boring and always the same

SYN dull , tedious 

a humdrum existence / job / life   

/

 

 

billy-o

billy-o / biliu; NAmE -ou / 

noun

IDIOMS

 like 'billy-o (BrE, informal) very hard or fast : I ran like billy-o.   

 

 

 

 

In light of this, and of reports by spies of green flames emerging from the exhaust of an experimental Soviet rocket, Americas air force experimented in the 1950s with stuff nicknamed zip fuel, which was laced with compounds of boron called boranes. The project was abandoned in 1959, for two good reasons. First, boranes proved extremely dangerous. They are toxic, meaning those working with them need special gas masks. They also ignite spontaneously in air, and may even explode. At least eight people involved in the zip-fuel project died in borane-related accidents.

 

laced with

verb 

1.[VN] ~ sth (with sth) to add a small amount of alcohol, a drug, poison, etc. to a drink

()()

SYN spike 

He had laced her milk with rum.   

 

The second reason for zip fuels abandonment was that the stuff itself proved disappointing. In jets, instead of burning completely, it produced a sticky residue which clung to turbine blades. Boron additives in rocket fuels also failed. The combustion process involved proved unexpectedly complex, and the promised additional energy was not forthcoming.

 

cling

cling / kli / 

verb (clung, clung / kl / )  

~ (to sth) to stick to sth

:

 a dress that clings (= fits closely and shows the shape of your body)   

 

The wet shirt clung to his chest.   

 

The smell of smoke still clung to her clothes.   

 

 

The navys notice suggests, though, that boron is back. The boffins behind it think that new physical forms of the element, known as allotropes, may offer ways around both the partial-combustion and the toxicity problems. Allotropes of an element can have very different properties from each other (graphite and diamond, for example, are both allotropes of carbon). The organisers suggest a novel boron allotrope, perhaps interlaced at the molecular level with a suitable oxidising agent, might yield a completely combustible, non-toxic fuel, and they are asking the countrys chemists to bring them one.

 

boffin

boffin / bfin; NAmE bfn / 

noun (BrE, informal) a scientist, especially one doing research

(), 

 

allotrope

allotrope / ltrup; NAmE -troup / 

noun 

(chemistry ) one of the different forms in which a chemical element exists. For example, diamond and graphite are allotropes of carbon .

 

 

 

Whether such allotropes exist remains to be seen. But America is not the only place working on the idea of boron-powered jets and rockets. China is interested, too. A project involving gelled fuel that has particles of boron suspended in it is under way at the National University of Defence Technology, in Changsha. The objective is to develop fuel for ramjets, a type of engine that operates efficiently only above Mach 3. So far, the researchers involved have managed to produce one that is 40% boron and yet burns more or less completely. One way or another, then, it looks plausible that boron-based fuels may get the green light. 

 







\n

Economist | Hypersonic flight


 

Hypersonic flight

The rockets green glare

A new fuel for jets and missiles is on the cards

 





May 15th 2021 | words 630

 

 

 

 

THE LATEST buzzword in the worlds aerospace skunk works is hypersonic. Speed and surprise have always been essential to warfare, and what better way to wrong-foot an enemy than by arriving unexpectedly on his doorstep in the form of an aircraft or missile travelling at Mach 5?

 

 

skunkworks

skunkworks / skkwkz; NAmE -wrkz / 

noun (pl. skunkworks)

(NAmE, informal) a small laboratory or department of a large company used for doing new scientific research or developing new products

(),, 

 

wrong-foot

wrong-'foot 

verb [VN]

(BrE) to put sb in a difficult or embarrassing situation by doing sth that they do not expect

It was an attempt to wrong-foot the opposition.   

 

 

In that context, a notice posted at the beginning of the year by Americas navy, soliciting proposals for a new research project, is intriguing. The projects objective is to determine a form of boron or a boron-based chemical pathway that leads to implementation of boron in energetic compounds, especially fuels (solid and liquid). The navys engineers, it seems, are trying to revive an idea that might make hypersonic flight easier to achieve, but which was tested and then abandoned more than half a century ago. They hope to spice up aviation and rocket fuel with a long-neglected element.

 

solicit

solicit / slisit / 

verb 

1. ~ sth (from sb) | ~ (sb) (for sth) (formal) to ask sb for sth, such as support, money, or information; to try to get sth or persuade sb to do sth

,():

They were planning to solicit funds from a number of organizations.   

 

Historians and critics are solicited for their opinions.   

 

to solicit for money  

 

 

intriguing

intriguing / intrigi / 

adj. 

very interesting because of being unusual or not having an obvious answer

These discoveries raise intriguing questions.   

 

an intriguing possibility   

 

He found her intriguing.   

 

intriguingly adv. 

 

boron

boron / brn; NAmE -rn / 

noun [U]

(symb B) a chemical element. Boron is a solid substance used in making steel alloys and parts for nuclear reactors .

 

 

 

Boron, atomic number five on the periodic table, is chemically a metalloidmeaning that it inhabits the debatable marcher lands between the empires of the metals proper, on the tables left-hand side, and the non-metals, on its right. Compounds of boron feature in washing powders and cleaning products (borax), antiseptics and water softeners, and also as additives in fibreglass, but such roles are humdrum. Boron does, though, burn like billy-o, generating a bright, green flame and releasing about 40% more energy per kilogram than conventional aviation fuel.

 

 

marcher

marcher / mt(r); NAmE mrt- / 

noun 

a person who is taking part in a march as a protest

SYN demonstrator 

 

feature

feature / fit(r) / 

verb 

1.  ~ (in sth) to have an important part in sth

olive oil and garlic feature prominently in his recipes.  

 

 

antiseptic

antiseptic / ntiseptik /

noun [C, U]

a substance that helps to prevent infection in wounds by killing bacteria

SYN disinfectant 

 

humdrum

humdrum / hmdrm / 

adj. 

boring and always the same

SYN dull , tedious 

a humdrum existence / job / life   

/

 

 

billy-o

billy-o / biliu; NAmE -ou / 

noun

IDIOMS

 like 'billy-o (BrE, informal) very hard or fast : I ran like billy-o.   

 

 

 

 

In light of this, and of reports by spies of green flames emerging from the exhaust of an experimental Soviet rocket, Americas air force experimented in the 1950s with stuff nicknamed zip fuel, which was laced with compounds of boron called boranes. The project was abandoned in 1959, for two good reasons. First, boranes proved extremely dangerous. They are toxic, meaning those working with them need special gas masks. They also ignite spontaneously in air, and may even explode. At least eight people involved in the zip-fuel project died in borane-related accidents.

 

laced with

verb 

1.[VN] ~ sth (with sth) to add a small amount of alcohol, a drug, poison, etc. to a drink

()()

SYN spike 

He had laced her milk with rum.   

 

The second reason for zip fuels abandonment was that the stuff itself proved disappointing. In jets, instead of burning completely, it produced a sticky residue which clung to turbine blades. Boron additives in rocket fuels also failed. The combustion process involved proved unexpectedly complex, and the promised additional energy was not forthcoming.

 

cling

cling / kli / 

verb (clung, clung / kl / )  

~ (to sth) to stick to sth

:

 a dress that clings (= fits closely and shows the shape of your body)   

 

The wet shirt clung to his chest.   

 

The smell of smoke still clung to her clothes.   

 

 

The navys notice suggests, though, that boron is back. The boffins behind it think that new physical forms of the element, known as allotropes, may offer ways around both the partial-combustion and the toxicity problems. Allotropes of an element can have very different properties from each other (graphite and diamond, for example, are both allotropes of carbon). The organisers suggest a novel boron allotrope, perhaps interlaced at the molecular level with a suitable oxidising agent, might yield a completely combustible, non-toxic fuel, and they are asking the countrys chemists to bring them one.

 

boffin

boffin / bfin; NAmE bfn / 

noun (BrE, informal) a scientist, especially one doing research

(), 

 

allotrope

allotrope / ltrup; NAmE -troup / 

noun 

(chemistry ) one of the different forms in which a chemical element exists. For example, diamond and graphite are allotropes of carbon .

 

 

 

Whether such allotropes exist remains to be seen. But America is not the only place working on the idea of boron-powered jets and rockets. China is interested, too. A project involving gelled fuel that has particles of boron suspended in it is under way at the National University of Defence Technology, in Changsha. The objective is to develop fuel for ramjets, a type of engine that operates efficiently only above Mach 3. So far, the researchers involved have managed to produce one that is 40% boron and yet burns more or less completely. One way or another, then, it looks plausible that boron-based fuels may get the green light. 

 







\n

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