British aerospace firm Reaction Engines has been working on an aircraft it believes would be able to take passengers anywhere in the world in just four hours.
If that doesn’t sound utterly awesome enough, how about this: the vehicle would also be able to fly in outer space.
Reaction Engines says there’s only one truly new technology in the aircraft that makes those things possible: the precooler.
In a new video, chief engineer Alan Bond explains that air entering the new “Sabre” engine system could be cooled by more than 1,000 degrees Celsius in .01 seconds. That ability would allow a jet engine to run at higher power than what is possible today.
More power = more speed. Enough to fly at Mach 5, five times the speed of sound, “pretty easily,” Bond says.
The Telegraph explained the technology in an article in late 2012:
The breakthrough technology is a cooling system which uses an array of thin pipes, arranged in a “swirl” pattern and filled with condensed helium, to extract heat from air and cool it to minus 150C before it enters the engine.
In normal circumstances, this would cause moisture in the air to freeze, coating the engine with frost, but the company has also developed a method which prevents this from happening.
The company eventually hopes to use its cooling technology to build a plane that transports 300 passengers and flies like a rocket. It will “transform high-speed aviation,” Bond says, adding, “we have no competitors. We are unique.”
The aircraft itself will measure 276 feet long, and be called the Skylon. It would take off and land horizontally (like a plane), which would make it easier to reuse than a standard rocket. But in addition to the $US1.1 billion price tag for each one, there’s another big downside: The Skylon has no windows, a major bummer for those excited to fly in space.
Although to be honest, there’s a trend in the airline industry of speculating on getting rid of windows, replacing them with wraparound viewscreens that could show ever-changing images of what’s happening outside aircraft. So maybe losing the windows wouldn’t be such a huge deal.
The company is currently in the process of testing the system. Test flights of the Skylon are planned for 2019.
Check it out:
[An earlier version of this post was written by Alex Davies.]