Visual aerodynamics – hypervelocity!

I am thinking of starting an occasional series on “visual aerodynamics” – images that show the air at work, creating lift and generating drag. What better way to start than these stills from high-speed video of the US Naval Research Organisation’s January 31 test of the world’s most powerful electromagnetic railgun. Not aviation perhaps, but aerodynamics certainly. As the projectile leaves the railgun with a muzzle velocity almost Mach 7.5 you can see the “lens” effect caused by the shockwave. Remember, the projectile is unpowered – the flames are generated by friction…


ONR%20railgun%202.jpgBAE Systems and General Atomics are working with ONR to demonstrate a 110nm-range railgun prototype by 2016-18. If successful, an operational 200nm-range railgun could arm US Navy warships by 2020-24, capable of firing 6-10 rounds a minute. Reaching Mach 7.5, the hypervelocity projectile would cover the 200nm in 6min, destroying its target with kinetic energy and minimising collateral damage.

That’s the theory. To get there, the railgun’s power has to be increased from 8MJ (the state of the art when the programme started in 2006), to 32MJ for the prototype and 64MJ for the operational weapon. In the January test at the Dahlgren Naval Surface Warfare Center, the railgun fired at 10.64MJ and acheived a muzzle velocity of 2,520m/s. A 16MJ firing is planned for later this year.

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