Since the retirement of the Concorde, a retired turbojet-powered supersonic passenger plane, jet travel hasn’t gotten any faster. For most travellers, it’s gotten less pleasant.But there are those who haven’t given up on the dream of supersonic flights that cross continents and oceans in half the time it takes today.
Some of these aircraft are only renderings, others are already embarking on test flights. But they all prove that the future of travel is supersonic.
The Concorde, cooperatively built by France and Britain, is the most successful commercial jet to travel at supersonic speeds. The sonic boom it produced led to bans of supersonic flight over land, limiting its economic potential.
The crash of Flight 4590 in 2000 that killed all 100 passengers, nine crew members, and four people on the ground further hurt the aircraft's reputation.
In 2003, Air France and British Airways announced the retirement of the Concorde, citing economic losses.
The Soviets had their own supersonic plane: the Tupolev Tu-144. It was the only other commercial aircraft to fly at more than Mach 1.
While its first flight took place in December 1968, three months before that of its Franco-British counterpart, the Tu-144 was the lesser aircraft. Nicknamed the 'Konkordski' by the Western media, it was plagued by test flight crashes and poor performance.
It was retired in 1983, after only seven years of service and 103 passenger flights.
NASA's research mission on supersonic flight solicited this concept, submitted by Lockheed Martin. The engines are placed on top of the plane to reduce the noise that reaches the ground.
The inverted-V at the tail is meant to reduce the effect of the sonic boom by altering the flow of air over the plane. It has not been tested.
The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is conducting research to develop a high speed aircraft that is quiet, safe, economical, and environmentally-friendly.
Working with NASA, it is focusing on 'sonic boom modelling,' which involves wind tunnel testing of concept planes.
JAXA doesn't give an exact date for completion of this project. Instead, it says that its goal will be met 'by the end of the century.'
Aerion is further along than most in the race to return to supersonic flight. It is already working with the FAA to test its Supersonic Business Jet, which it expects to enter the market by the end of the decade.
The jet will hold 8 to 12 passengers, but the technology it uses is scalable to larger aircraft. It will have two 'sweet spots,' speeds at which it is most efficient: Mach .95 and just below Mach 1.5.
Aerion says it has received letters of intent for about 50 aircraft, which are priced at $80 million.
The ZEHST, on the other hand, won't be ready until at least 2050, though it aims to run demonstration flights by 2020. It will avoid climate-harming emissions by using electric power and biofuel made from seaweed.
The ZEHST will fly 20 miles above the Earth, which EADS says is so high, the sonic boom will be inaudible from the ground.
travelling at more than Mach 4, it could cross the Atlantic in an hour and travel from Tokyo to Los Angeles in under two and a half hours.
This small business jet will be powered by a hybrid gas electric turbine engine. HyperMach predicts its 'electromagnetic drag reduction technology' will dramatically reduce, or even eliminate, the sonic boom.
The SonicStar will have room for 10-20 passengers, and will cruise at Mach 3.8 between 60,000 and 65,000 feet.
HyperMach counts executives and government officials as its potential future customers, but notes the jet could be used to transport luxury cargo or even race horses.
XCOR is pioneering the idea of point-to-point space travel: crossing the planet by leaving it altogether. It hopes to make it a reality by 2030, and the first step is getting a 'stepping stone vehicle' into space.
The two-seater Lynx will take off and land on a runway like a conventional plane, but will fly outside the atmosphere, fast enough to get from London to Sydney in three and a half hours.
XCOR is booking 'up and down' flights in the Lynx for $95,000. Once it has built up a reliable safety record, it will develop and launch a larger spacecraft that will make point-to-point space travel a reality.
The X-51 WaveRider is the work of DARPA, NASA, the Air Force, Boeing, and Pratt & Whitney. Scramjet technology forces combustion when airflow is faster than the speed of sound, making speeds as high as Mach 20 theoretically possible.
Developed to enable long-range, rapid response military strikes, the X-51 was dropped from a B-52 at 50,000 feet over the Pacific in mid-August. The test flight ended in failure when the aircraft lost control before the engine fired up.
The unsuccessful flight was the second for the WaveRider. In June of last year it rocketed to speed, but crashed when it failed to separate from its booster.
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