Chinese Supersonic Submarine Could go 3,600 MPH, in Theory
Imagine submerging outside of Shanghai and then breaching the sea’s surface in San Francisco less than two hours later. Sound impossible…and a bit scary? It might be, but that’s what researchers in China are trying to find out. China’s Harbin Institute of Technology told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that it was studying a phenomenon called supercavitation for use in submarine propulsion, which in theory could allow for underwater traveling speeds of up to 3,600 mph. Compared to the US Navy’s Ohio-class submarines, which reportedly top out at around 29mph, these speedy Chinese subs would effectively be the hypercars of the submersible world. RELATED: See Photos of the 2011 Volkswagen Aqua Concept
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Supercavitation occurs when tiny air bubbles formed by the movement of a solid object through water mold together to become one large gas bubble that encompasses most of the object itself. Drag between the water and object thus drops off immensely and allows the object to move through water at much higher speeds.
3,600mph though? We’ll have to see about that. According to the report, supercavitation has been the focus of US, German, Iranian, and Russian weapon experiments (mainly torpedoes) for decades, though there are quite a few technical snafus involved.
“The size of the bubble is difficult to control, and the vessel is almost impossible to steer,” notes fluid mechanics professor Wang Guoyu.
If a fin so much as touched the water while traveling at speed, it could be snapped off due to the disparity in relative densities. Additionally, the vessel would need to launch at speeds of around 62 mph before supercavitation can even occur, which presents a challenge in itself.
The Chinese study allegedly looks to a man-made liquid membrane as means to address both of those issues, though we won’t hold our breath waiting for this one, pun intended.
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