by Hugh Morris, The Telegraph, February 26, 2018
A new hypersonic aircraft could ferry passengers anywhere in the world in under three hours.
Travelling at up to 3,800 miles an hour, more than six times the speed of a typical commercial jet and twice as fast as a supersonic aircraft, it has been developed for the Chinese military, but could be used for passengers.
Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences say they have tested a scaled-down model of the hypersonic jet in a wind tunnel, where it reached a top speed of 5,343mph.
Writing in the Physics, Mechanics and Astronomy journal, Cui Kai said: “It will take only a couple of hours to travel from Beijing to New York at hypersonic speed.
“This could provide more convenient and efficient transportation than present subsonic airplanes for long-distance journeys in future.'
The aircraft will have two sets of wings that use one another to reduce turbulence and drag.
As part of a separate enterprise, aircraft manufacturer Boeing is working with Lockheed Martin to develop another hypersonic aircraft, but details on the project are sparse.
“[Hypersonic travel] is certainly within the realm of possibility,” Dr. Kevin Bowcutt, senior technical fellow and chief scientist of hypersonics for Boeing Research & Technology, told NBC. “I think we have the technology now where we could actually do it.”
Where are we with supersonic flight?
Last November, ambitious aviation company Boom Technology - a Colorado-based start up - said it was nearly ready to test a passenger jet capable of breaking the sound barrier.
According to the firm's CEO, Blake Scholl, a prototype of its “Boom Supersonic” plane will be in the sky as early as the end of 2018. Furthermore, he says, the company has already received more than 70 offers, from five different (unidentified) carriers, for an aircraft that could be in commercial service by the middle of the next decade.
Speaking at the Dubai Airshow last year, Mr Scholl declared that the firm's XB-1 jet - which it has nicknamed “Baby Boom” - will revolutionise the way we travel.
“Think about for a moment the families that are separated because of the long flights,” he said. “Think about the trips not taken because when you add up the lost hours, the trip just doesn't feel worth it.”
“That's where we come in. We are a team of engineers and technologists, brought together for the sole purpose of making our world dramatically more accessible.”
“Baby Boom” will, the company says, fly at Mach 1.9, while a full-sized version of the plane will be even swifter, at 1,687mph (2,330kph) – 100mph faster than Concorde.
However, even if the Boom Supersonic appears at airports as per Mr Scholl's timeline, it will not - initially, at least - mark the advent of a new supersonic age.
The first version of the jet for commercial travel is expected to have space for no more than 55 passengers - and is likely to be business-class-only.
Another configuration would see it set up with 30 business class seats, with a further 15 berths for first-class travellers - but supersonic travel for economy-class fliers is, as yet, still a distant proposition.
Mr Scholl argues, though, that flights on his company's planes will not be priced beyond the reach of most people.
“You won't have to be on the Forbes' list to be able to fly,” he says.
“It will cost about the same as flying business class today. The ultimate goal is to make supersonic affordable for anyone who flies."
Boom Supersonic has had a helping hand from Sir Richard Branson. Virgin Atlantic has an option for 10 of the aircraft, while Virgin Galactic, the company's space-travel wing, will be involved in the testing process.