Once, air travel was little more than a dream and inventors around the world were desperate for their inventions to be the first to take off and travel above land. Since then, aviation has come on leaps and bounds with using aircraft for both business and leisure purposes becoming a normal part of everyday life. Aircraft have also played a vital role in many successful military operations and in search and rescue procedures.
Not satisfied with the huge advancements made within the aviation industry, scientists, engineers, and designers are always looking for ways to make improvements. These days, the focus is on making airplanes bigger, better, and faster. Increasing speed and reducing travel time is one of the main areas that specialists in the aviation industry are focusing on and Boeing is leading the way in this field. At the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) conference which took place in Atlanta, Boeing unveiled their concept design for a hypersonic passenger jet.
In theory, this vehicle has the potential to break records in terms of the speed of passenger aircraft. Boeing was proud to claim that it could travel at Mach Five, which is five times the speed of sound. In layman’s terms, this means that the aircraft can reach a top speed of 3,836 miles per hour. To put this into perspective, consider a flight from New York to Tokyo. Currently, this is a journey that takes approximately 14 hours. If the new vehicle was used for the flight, the journey would take just a couple of hours.
Kevin Bowcutt, the senior technical fellow of hypersonics at Boeing, spoke to ‘Popular Mechanics’ about the concept design. He explained that the vehicle would use a ramjet, which is a specific engine type that is used in many designs for hypersonic vehicles. It is the use of such an engine that would allow the vehicle to achieve the speeds suggested by Boeing. Bowcutt went on to describe other elements of the design. According to him, the split tail would help to steer and stabilize the vehicle. The vehicle would also produce minimal drag thanks to the sharp front-end design.
It is already known that building and flying such a vehicle is possible as there have been similar vehicles tried and tested. One such vehicle that has exceeded hypersonic speed is the Boeing X-51 Waverider. This is an area of aviation on which Boeing has been working for some time. Therefore, while it is possible to build such vehicles, there are still obstacles that are standing in the way of them being used and designing the perfect vehicle is not one of them. The main issue is that it is proving difficult to make the flights affordable. At the moment it is just too expensive to scale up by creating bigger aircraft that can fly for longer periods of time.
John Plueger, the president and CEO of Airlease Corp, spoke to CNBC about the issues the advancements face. He said that he cannot see these flights happening at the moment and certainly not with the next 15 to 20 years. In his opinion, getting the first vehicle of this kind in use is going to become cost competitive but he believes that all the major players in the aviation industry will want to have a go at being the first.
Boeing is not the only company in the aviation industry that is developing ways for people to travel at Mach Five in the future. Lockheed Martin announced in June 2017 that they are developing a hypersonic military aircraft called the SR-72. However, they admitted that it is unlikely this will be airborne until 2030. Researchers in China are also in the process of developing hypersonic aircraft. They announced in February that they had taken their scaled-down version of the hypersonic I Plane and tested it in an air tunnel where it achieved a speed of Mach Seven. If this vehicle went into development, it would be used to transport military.
The passenger plane that has been unveiled by Boeing could be used for transporting both civilian and the military but there is a long wait before this will happen. It is estimated that the aircraft will not be ready for another three decades or more.