27 October 2004

A North Queensland engineering firm will play an important role in next year’s Australian experiments to test the world’s fastest air-breathing engines.

NQEA Australia Pty Ltd of Cairns has manufactured a key piece of equipment required by UQ researchers to simulate true flight conditions ahead of three experimental flights to be held at Woomera, South Australia, in September 2005.

NQEA, which employs 400 people, specialises in designing and constructing specialised machinery, commercial and naval shipbuilding and ship repair. Now it is furthering its aerospace expertise.

This month the company presented a nozzle which has been fitted to The University of Queensland’s ground test facility, the T4 tunnel at St Lucia, enabling full scale scramjet testing.

Scramjets (supersonic combustion ramjet engines) are very fast jet engines. They are designed to propel aircraft at hypersonic speeds (faster than Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound). They are set to make possible two-hour flights from Sydney to London, and revolutionise the launch of small space payloads, such as communications satellites, by substantially lowering costs.

The first two scramjet experimental flights at Woomera next year will be conducted at Mach 8, or 8000km an hour, and the third one at Mach 10, or 11,000km an hour.

But before that happens, many hundreds of hours of testing will be conducted on the ground, including in the T4 test bed facility.

The fastest flight will be a collaboration between U.S. and Australian interests. Key partners are the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Australian Hypersonics Initiative (AHI), a consortium of Australian research institutions interested in advancing the technology. UQ is a consortium partner.

NQEA Chairman Don Fry, AO, who is also an Adjunct Professor in UQ’s School of Engineering, said he was delighted to be a “benevolent supporter” of UQ.

“I’ve been interested in jet propulsion all my life, and in my boyhood built small jet engines to propel aeroplanes and boats,” Professor Fry said.

“My father started the firm in 1948, and I joined it 50 years ago. I was introduced to The University of Queensland 20 years ago by Emeritus Professor Keith Bullock to work on a high-pressure steam engine.

“I met Australia’s first professor of space engineering, Emeritus Professor Ray Stalker and found we had common interests. I agreed to build scramjet models for testing in the T4 facility, which has led to an ongoing interest in scramjets.

“The latest piece of equipment has been built to the researchers’ specifications.”

HyShot™ international program leader Professor Allan Paull said Australian hypersonics research owed a great deal to Professor Fry.

“Don has provided ongoing support for this exciting new technology in which Australia is leading the world,” he said.

“He also is interested in the commercialisation of this sector.”

Don Fry said the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra had recently contracted NQEA to build a complete ground testing hypersonics test chamber to a design developed by him.

Besides his business and scientific interests, Don Fry chairs the national committee advising the Federal Government on homelessness. He is also chair of the JCU Engineering Advisory Board.

Don Fry is a recipient of the Institution of Engineers highest National award. He was the inaugural recipient of the Queensland Division Hall of Fame and was recently inducted into the QUT Hall of Fame for Outstanding Constructors.

Media: Further information, please contact Don Fry, telephone 61 7 4052 7222 or HyShot™ team members Dr Hans Alesi or Professor Allan Paull, telephone 61 7 3327 0218. Photos of Mr Fry and UQ researchers with the nozzle are available by contacting UQ photographic librarian, Diana Lilley, telephone 61 7 3365 2753.
HyShot™ images can be downloaded from http://www.uq.edu.au/news/hyshot/hyshot-gallery.php