In October 2003, the first supersonic passenger airliner took its last and final flight across the Atlantic while carrying 100 celebrity passengers. Concorde, the British-French turbojet, had quite a history behind it starting from when it first flew in 1969. It reached a max speed of Mach 2.04, twice the speed of sound, which meant that a flight from London to New York only took an approximate of 2-3 hours. Of course, this round trip flight also cost roughly US$8,000, as it did back in 1997. Since the decommission of the Concorde, many efforts have been made to improve high speed flight not only to make it more affordable for commercial passengers but also to make it more efficient and realistic in general. Here are the top 5 advances in high-speed flight within the last 10 years.
In 2010, a Boeing scramjet experimental aircraft took flight that reached a max speed of Mach 5. That categorized that flight as hypersonic. While this was quite a jump from the Concorde, the X-51 Waverider was completely unmanned and rightly so. Research for hypersonic travel at that point was unrealistic and development was hardly existent. The X-51 Waverider test flight was a success but only because it had help. The Waverider was able to reach Mach 5 only after it was released from a larger aircraft. At that point, the Waverider was able to boost itself to higher speeds.
At this point in technology, hypersonic travel wasn’t at all realistic. It only made sense to concentrate more on supersonic speed levels, especially when considering commercial travel. Spike Aerospace upped the game by introducing the Spike S-512, a supersonic jet that can reach speeds of up to Mach 1.6. The aircraft was exhibited at the 2014 EAA AirVenture OshKosh airshow. Since then, Spike Aerospace has worked to take the aircraft from exhibition to production. Nowadays, the Spike S-512 is in full operation with a capacity of 18 passengers that can travel from New York to London within 3 hours. This is done by the aircrafts max speed capability of up to Mach 1.8 and its ability to cruise at speeds of Mach 1.6.
At this point, supersonic travel has once again become reality. However, there was still a big issue when it came to traveling at supersonic speeds: the sonic boom. In 2016, Lockheed Martin partnered with NASA to develop the QueSST Program, which stands for Quiet Supersonic Technology. The company has exhibited the X-Plane, a prototype aircraft designed to not only to tackle the problem of the sonic boom but also to make the supersonic travel greener. With the X-Plane, the sonic boom has been reduced to a mere soft thump rather than a window breaking sound.
By the time the problem of the sonic boom had been practically solved, the idea of hypersonic travel had long been entertained. With supersonic travel already in operation, the next step up would naturally be to go hyper. However, that in itself presents a whole Pandora’s box of challenges, all of which scientists, researchers, and developers are nothing but eager to tackle. In 2017 at the International Space Planes and Hypersonic Systems and Technologies Conference in China, an idea was proposed to tackle one issue when it comes to high-speed travel: temperature. There have been limits to the usual materials used in typical subsonic commercial flight, let alone in hypersonic speeds. European research had been looking into oxidation resistant materials and other composite structures as components for building hypersonic aircrafts. Aerodynamic and Thermal Load Interactions with Lightweight Advanced Materials for High Speed Flight, or ATTLAS for short, focused on producing materials that will be more efficient for high-speed passenger aircrafts.
Son of Blackbird
Lockheed Martin’s SR-71-“Blackbird” has been the paragon for hypersonic travel for a while now, and the company also has an improved design under development, the SR-72. However, Boeing recently released a design that rivals both, and it’s being dubbed the “Son of Blackbird.” Just released this year at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech forum in Orlando, Florida, the Boeing aircraft is projected to go up to 3,868 mph, or Mach 5 to be exact. The goal is for the aircraft to be able to take off on its own, accelerate through the speed of sound, and eventually reach Mach 5 on its own, then slow down enough to land. That’s what commercial aircrafts do, and that’s the ultimate goal for hypersonic aircrafts to be able to take passengers to and from their destinations.
Written by Garrett Parker
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