Supersonic Air Travel, Fifty Years Later: Is It Still Possible?

By Suad Cobo



Pilots of the last British Airways flight BA002 onboard Concorde (Credit: BT.com)


After a tough competition between Russia, France, the UK, and the United States, the first commercial aircraft toreach the speed of sound had its first flight on March 2, 1969. However, its history was not so successful. Due to many reasons, such as the crash of Air France flight AF4590, cost of maintenance, environmental concerns, rising fuel costs, the impact of 9/11 attacks, and others, airlines stopped their operations with supersonic aircraft, and the last supersonic commercial flight was flown on October 24, 2003. However, there is still hope that commercial supersonic travel might become a reality in the future.


Of course, Concorde was not cheap to fly. It only featured first-class cabins, and both French and British national airlines made this luxury service a big selling point, along with being able to cross the Atlantic from London to New York in just three and a half hours. That same flight takes around seven hours today. Regardless of its high price, it was and still is, a fascinating concept.


Boom Supersonic Concept


A start-up based in Denver, USA, Boom Supersonic, announced the roll-out of their 1:3 scale prototype called XB-1 on October 7, with test flights beginning in 2021. According to the company, XB-1 is precisely designed to garner learnings for Boom’s future supersonic airliner, Overture. Overture’s goal is to deliver passengers in half the time as the aircraft today, with cost-savings, safety, and efficiency, which ultimately means commercial viability.


XB-1 assembly in the Boom Hangar (Credit: Boom Supersonic)


Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Boom Supersonic gathered around 6 billion US dollars worth of pre-orders for the aircraft, with a price tag of 200 million dollars. If all goes according to plan, Overture, which is designed to seat between 55 to 75 people, will begin passenger flights in 2030. It will focus on over 500 primarily transoceanic routes, such as New York to London, a journey that would take just three hours and 15 minutes on board this aircraft thanks to its Mach 2.2 cruising speed, which means it can fly 2.2 times the speed of sound in normal conditions.


Boom is not the only company that’s developing a new commercial supersonic aircraft. A company from Reno, Nevada, USA, Aerion Corporation, is currently developing a similar concept that can hold up to 12 passengers.


Virgin Galactic and Supersonic Travel

Virgin Galactic’s new supersonic jet concept (Credit: Virgin Galactic)


Virgin Galactic takes this one step further, revealing designs for a jet that is capable of flying at Mach 3. At that speed, London to Sydney flights could be flown in just five hours, and to New York in just two hours. Furthermore, it’s cruising altitude would be more than 60,000 feet. In comparison, modern subsonic jet aircraft fly at a maximum of around 40,000 feet. To achieve this, they are collaborating with Rolls-Royce and the aforementioned Boom Supersonic, as well as the US aviation regulator FAA.



References

  1. Hardingham-Gill, T. (2020, July 09). Boom supersonic jet set for 2021 take off. Retrieved August 09, 2020, from https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/boom-supersonic-jet-set-for-2021-take-off/index.html

  2. Jackson, A. (2018, August 10). October 24, 2003: Britons look to the skies as Concorde makes its final commercial flight. Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://home.bt.com/news/on-this-day/october-24-2003-britons-look-to-the-skies-as-concorde-makes-its-final-commercial-flight-11364012432050

  3. New York in two hours and Sydney in five - Virgin gives first look at supersonic jet project. (2020, August 04). Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://news.sky.com/story/virgin-galactic-working-on-2-300mph-supersonic-jet-that-could-reach-sydney-in-five-hours-12042007

  4. Szondy, D. (2019, August 16). Supersonic: 50 years after its first flight, the Concorde story is still remarkable. Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://newatlas.com/concorde-50-years-first-flight/58609/

  5. What is a Demonstrator Aircraft and why build one? (2020, July 15). Retrieved August 10, 2020, from

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