Supersonic passenger flights will be making a return to the skies, to the delight of air travelers.
How do you feel about spending up to 18 hours of non-stop flight time in an airplane to reach your destination?
For better or worse and whether you love it or hate it that is the definition of efficient air travel today.
But when is air travel going to advance from snail-mail speed to email speed?
Although we are not ready to enter an era of “beam me up Scotty” teleportation travel yet, exciting developments are indeed on the way!
The new era of short travel time from and to anywhere on earth appears to be in the very near future.
Air Travel Status Quo
Every time, Boeing or Airbus come out with a new jet it’s celebrated with hoopla and fanfare.
At the same time, your seat has gotten smaller and you are being packed into the cabin like a sardine. Unless you travel First or Premium Class, that is.
Besides helping the airlines save fuel and operating cost, there are some benefits in new airplanes for you and me too.
The cabin air has gotten better, the noise levels inside the airplanes have come down, and cabins have improved lighting to counteract the effects of jetlag.
These are all items which improve the effects of travel fatigue and your body taking a beating from flying.
Lack of real progress
Despite rapid improvements to airplane technology over the past 75 years, one thing has not progressed, and that is the speed of the airplanes.
As a matter of fact, it has stayed the same. In many cases, the time it takes you to get to your destination has regressed!
Reliability, efficiency, noise, and fuel consumption of jet engines have improved. But today’s jet engines are not taking us to our destination any faster than the jets did in the 1960s and the 1970s!
The end of pioneering supersonic passenger flights
The last supersonic passenger flight ended in 2003.
What led up to the sudden shutdown of the supersonic flight was a combination of the deadly Air France Concorde accident in 2000.
The economic downturn because 9/11 contributed greatly to the discontinuation of further supersonic flight development too.
Challenges and Dreams
Operationally, the relatively small size of the Concorde, very high operating cost, and severe noise restrictions further led to the demise of supersonic passenger flight.
The promising future of commercial supersonic flight began in 1973. Cutting overseas flight time in half was a dream come true for passengers.
For 30 years passengers could enjoy a flight between New York and London in about three hours. On a subsonic flight, the trip could take 7-8 hours, as it still does today!
The noise restrictions prohibited the Concorde from flying the speed of sound over populated areas, however.
The noise problem with the supersonic flight
The main challenge of developing new supersonic jets is minimizing or eliminating the sound of the sonic boom.
When an airplane penetrates the sound barrier where it reaches the speed of sound, a loud boom results.
Sonic booms can be heard on the ground. The boom can even be so loud as to break windows during overflights!
The sound can be experienced anywhere from a muffled sound to an outright thunder-like violent bang.
Thus, the only suitable airspace the Concorde could go supersonic was over the ocean.
A bright, renewed future of supersonic flight
Renewed interest in the supersonic passenger flight, technological advancements, new materials, and new designs have emerged since the shutdown of supersonic flight.
These advances have also contributed to what our near future of air travel will most likely look like.
What is a supersonic flight?
Booking your flight on SUPERSONIC jet should be a reality within the next 10-15 years, continuing where the Concorde-era ended.
Flying at supersonic speed means you are flying at the speed of sound, or faster.
You reach the speed of sound around 600-900 mph, 965-1236 km/h, or Mach 0.8-1.2, also referred to as the transonic regime or range.
The reason why the speed of the transonic regime varies from subsonic to supersonic is that the exact point where you reach the speed of sound is dependent on many things.
Temperature and altitude variations, among many other physical and atmospheric variables, determine the exact speed where you will break the sound barrier at any given time.
Who is developing these new supersonic passenger jets?
Leading the way are three startup companies, one major defense contractor for NASA, as well as Boeing and Airbus.
The first ones to benefit from the new technology are the military and business jet customers.
Advancement from the military and corporate sector will lead to major airlines offering supersonic travel, as well!
Denver, Colorado-based Boom is developing the XB-1, a 55-seat, Mach 2.2 supersonic passenger airplane.
It’s slated to become the fastest commercial jet in history.
Boom predicts fares to be about the price of business class tickets of today.
Supersonic passenger airplane video presentation
The AS2 supersonic business jet is an Aerion – Lockheed Martin joint development, to be equipped with GE (General Electric) engines.
This Reno, Nevada based company is aiming to fly its 12-passenger AS2 business jet in 2023, with full certification by 2025.
The AS2 will be cruising at Mach 1.4, with an operating altitude of up to 60,000 feet.
Aerion currently has an order in for 20 aircraft from the Flexjet company.
Boston-based Spike Aerospace announced in 2014 that their 12-18 passenger supersonic business jet model S-512 will cruise at Mach 1.6.
To decrease drag the jet would have no windows. The cabin would be lined with screens that would display the live view outside the airplane, a movie, or a work presentation.
Called “the quiet supersonic jet”, the airplane is designed to emit only a very low sonic boom of less than 75 PLdB.
That solves the problem of not being able to get certification to go supersonic over land since the jet is quiet even as it penetrates the sound barrier!
Lockheed Martin, a contractor for NASA
Lockheed Martin and NASA have teamed up to develop an ultra-quiet supersonic passenger jet.
The ultimate dream is to create a supersonic jet that can perform without producing that noisy sonic boom.
In 2017 NASA said their project had reached a significant milestone in the progress towards their goal.
As we get a better understanding of efficient supersonic flight it will progress to the next step.
The next logical step is the hypersonic flight. Traveling on a jet flying at HYPERSONIC speeds is estimated to become a reality within the next 20-30 years.
Hypersonic speed starts at Mach 5 (5 times the speed of sound).
Boeing’s concept for their five times the speed of sound Mach 5 hypersonic passenger jet.
New York to London in one hour sure sounds like a delight for passengers. How about waking up in New York, catch a flight for lunch in London, then go back to sleep in your own bed that same night?
The company filed for a patent with the U.S. for a supersonic jet concept with a rocket engine, which would fly at four and a half times the speed of sound at Mach 4.5.
Featured Image: Boom.