We still cannot teleport from one place to another. But even if supersonic warplanes are not anything extraordinary, passenger flights from Europe to Australia are a matter of long hours. Moreover, Boeing 737 today flies with a maximum speed of 876 kph… just like planes did 70 years ago. Surprised?
Lots of you (and me!) probably do not remember Concorde, the most famous supersonic passenger plane, flying. However, it was not the only one. It was not even the first – during the cold war, the USSR won the race by designing Tu-144, but it never became as popular and successful as Concorde. Although British-French Concorde had numerous problems, too. Why? Let’s take a look at how supersonic travels work in practice.
Come back to Boeing. Why is 876kph the maximum? And why does it fly at 9-12km above the ground? It is because of the specific properties of jet engines. This speed and cruising level guarantee the most economical journey. The closer to the sound barrier we are, the more fuel we need because of flight instability. After breaking the sound barrier, we can travel more calmly. But the fuel consumption is far higher than in the most economical conditions. The fuel we have to pay for…
Another issue was that Concorde could only be supersonic over the sea. The sonic boom was too loud for people and it used afterburners. It was said to be heard on the other side of London when starting from Heathrow airport. The characteristic huge delta wings demanded landing with greater angle, which was more difficult due to poor visibility. That is why Concorde has a drop-down nose. Regarding the nose… during the flight it warmed up to 100 degrees which made the whole plane 30 cm longer!
Concorde could reach New York from London in 3.5 hours. It was an excellent solution for businessmen and was popular in its first years - but was still unprofitable despite astronomical ticket prices. The lack of trust in flights after World Trade Center in 2001 lead to the end of the era of Concorde which wanted to come back after the modernisation caused by its own and only accident in 2000.
It is believed that in aircraft, every mistake is made only once. American start-up Boom Supersonic claims to draw conclusions from Concorde's history. Concorde history and shows XB-1 – the 55-passenger test plane with the maximum speed of Mach 2.2 (2300kph). This will allow Boom to perfect the design of its larger project, Overture. Fewer people (65-88 for Overture) onboard should guarantee full occupancy, better materials and design – more safety. General Electrics engines should need less fuel. Boom’s keywords are “Speed, Safety & Sustainability”.
NASA’s X-59 plans to fly in 2022 as ‘a sustained supersonic flight overland’ and eliminate or limit the sonic boom. Aerion is not that fast, it is meant to offer supersonic flights by the end of this decade. Its 8-10-passenger AS2 is considered to become a businessmen’s plane. It also wants to generate lower sonic boom overland, keeping the speed of Mach 1.4. All new machines mentioned before should not be treated as rivals. They will cover different fields of supersonic travels.
We know that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed our world. It helped us realise that we can do much a lot of work remotely, both in business and education. A lot of airlines face problems and may disappear soon. We have got used to cheap tickets. Is there a place for supersonic passenger jets? Well, I keep my fingers crossed that I see (and hear!) them in the sky but I am afraid these projects will not be completed with flying colours. However, the history of aircraft shows that nothing is impossible.
Cover photo credits: https://boomsupersonic.com/news/show/boom-supersonic-and-rolls-royce