What if I told you that some time in the future, you could fly from New York to LA in 30 minutes. Hardly enough time to finish a cup of coffee.. Buck RogersBuck Rogers of the 25th Century... Adventure, flying saucers and super-fast aircraft. .And, you could do it affordably and efficiently, not like a king sitting in some futuristic, supersonic sky palace..And it’s all because of something called a morphing hypersonic engine..The US Department of Defense (DoD) recently revealed an intriguing project funded by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) that aims to develop a unique hypersonic engine..According to the University of Central Florida (UCF), this engine — if successful — could revolutionize commercial and space travel by enabling ultra-fast speeds..According to T2S.Space, the project, led by a UCF researcher, has the potential to allow air travel at speeds ranging from Mach 6 to 17, or more than 4,600 to 13,000 mph..Such unprecedented speeds have the potential to transform the way we think about transportation, not to mention industries such as logistics and tourism..Hypersonic aircraft and missiles, capable of traveling between five and 20 times the speed of sound are at the centre of a new high-speed international arms race, with several countries scrambling to build and test weapons and planes that can outrun nearly any conventional munition shy of a laser..But the aerodynamics at these speeds are absolutely savage — a massive challenge for everyone involved..So what the heck is a morphing hypersonic engine?.In short, this adaptive concept is an innovative approach to achieving higher speeds and improving efficiency with fewer moving parts..By being able to change its configuration during flight the engine can dynamically adjust to different altitudes, speeds and atmospheric conditions..The key is also developing a guidance system that can still function at Mach 5 and above..“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 who is heading a US$1.5 million DoD award..Due to the extreme nature of hypersonic flight and the risk of catastrophic failures, most aircraft under development try to limit the complexity of their individual parts. This includes the wings, body and even the engines..Unfortunately, this can limit the incremental improvements in performance and efficiency still needed to make regular hypersonic flight viable..However, the UCF researcher says this is about to change — big-time..This is what has aeronautical engineers excited..“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,” he said..Ahmed is a leading researcher in the field of hypersonics, achieving the first stabilized and sustained rotating detonation wave for hypersonic travel — a technological leap for aerospace engines.. StargazerBoeing is not the only company playing with the idea of hypersonic flight. Above, Texas-based Venus Aerospace's Stargazer hypersonic jet. .This new research project — currently in the stage of experimental testing — is based off Ahmed’s work on 'scramjet,' or supersonic combustion ramjet engines..The main feature of a scramjet is its ability to combust air at supersonic speeds without slowing it down to subsonic speeds..Here is a simplified technological explanation:.According to an expert, the shock structure inside the inlet of an air-breathing hypersonic (or scramjet) engine is controlled largely by the inlet geometry..The ability to change that geometry in flight allows for the control of flow behavior and the enhancement of engine performance..Morphing structures based on cellular-core sandwich panels provide a useful platform for aerodynamic shape change without introducing seals or gaps into the structure..The nozzle has the capability of changing its aerodynamic shape smoothly and continuously during operation, thus changing the Mach number in the nozzle..“We are very happy for being 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.”.That would be an understatement — a hypersonic engine capable of morphing its shape is truly groundbreaking..Besides commercial air travel, scramjet technology also holds promise in the space industry, according to Interesting Engineering..The high speeds achievable by scramjets could potentially make space launches more economical. Currently, a significant portion of a rocket's weight is its oxidizer, used to burn its fuel in space..Since scramjets can utilize oxygen from the atmosphere, at least in the lower portions of the flight, this can reduce the weight of the rocket and, consequently, the cost associated with launching payloads into space..Ultimately, there are still a number of steps needed to bring the dreams of a morphing hypersonic engine to fruition, but Ahmed and his team appear poised to be at the forefront of those technological leaps..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.