New York to London in 90 minutes? These companies think it’s possible

plane
(Ethan McArthur, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: David Elliott, Chief Sub-Editor, Formative Content


When Concorde landed for the final time in London, the crowds saw their dreams of flying faster than the speed of sound grounded along with the legendary plane.

But now, a little over 15 years later, plans for ultra-fast air travel are once again taking off. Companies like Lockheed Martin and Boom, which is backed by the Virgin Group and Japan Airlines, are developing new supersonic aircraft.

And some in the industry are thinking even faster – they’re going hypersonic.

US start-up Hermeus is developing a plane to fly five times faster than the speed of sound, at what’s known as Mach 5. It would be able to travel from New York to London in 90 minutes.

The Atlanta-based firm isn’t alone. The UK’s Reaction Engines, working with the European Space Agency and the UK Space Agency, has announced a breakthrough in engine technology it says is a milestone in the journey to Mach 5 flights. And Boeing has unveiled a sleek concept for its own hypersonic jet.

So we could soon be nipping across the Atlantic in less time than it takes to watch the average movie. But will people – and more importantly the planet – welcome the move?

 Boeing says its hypersonic plane could be used for commercial or military purposes.

Boeing says its hypersonic plane could be used for commercial or military purposes.
Image: Boeing
In for the long haul

Research into hypersonic travel goes back decades. In the 1960s, the US Air Force and NASA experimented with the rocket-powered X-15, which recorded speeds of more than 7,000 kilometres an hour – Mach 6.7.

Since then, progress has been limited. Just a few aircraft have flown hypersonic since, including Boeing’s X-51 WaveRider, which completed its first test flight in 2010.

The company has been working on the technology for about six decades, and it says advances in materials, engines and flight simulation are bringing it closer to commercial application. But there are still barriers to getting it off the ground.

A hypersonic plane would have to be built to withstand the extreme temperaturescaused by air friction at such high speeds. And new propulsion systems would be needed to operate efficiently at more than 6,000 km an hour.

Then there’s the noise. When a plane breaks the sound barrier, it creates a sonic boom. It’s so loud it can damage human ears, limiting the routes such planes can fly.

Is it what we want?

Boeing, BAE Systems, NASA and Lockheed Martin are among the organizations working to solve these problems. But will there be a market for hypersonic travel once they do?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that by 2037 the number of air passengers could double to 8.2 billion a year. With that many people in the air, drastically reduced flight times could benefit both passengers and airlines.

Boom has said a seat on one of its supersonic flights would cost no more than a business class ticket today. And Hermeus thinks a one-way ticket between New York and London on its hypersonic plane would cost $3,000. Being able to fly across the world for a business meeting and be home for dinner would no doubt be attractive for some.

Even if passengers were willing to pay a premium for that privilege, though, there’s another question facing the industry: the environmental impact.

 Reaction Engines says its SABRE technology would allow flights from Brussels to Sydney in just over four hours.

Reaction Engines says its SABRE technology would allow flights from Brussels to Sydney in just over four hours.
Image: Reaction Engines

 

What about the planet?

The aviation industry has committed to cutting its environmental footprint. Under an International Civil Aviation Organization scheme, the IATA has said it will work to cut its emissions by offseting 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2035.

An International Council on Clean Transportation report warns supersonic flights would be unlikely to meet such environmental standards. They burn up to seven times more fuel, it says, which would exceed CO2 emissions limits by 70%.

Hypersonic engines such as those being built by Reaction Engines could sidestep this issue by using hydrogen fuel. As well as potential safety benefits, hydrogen engines do not emit greenhouse gases.

But they might create a different problem – the water vapour they produce would hang in the stratosphere and could contribute to global warming.

Image: Statista

Preparing for departure

If these hurdles can be overcome, we could be cruising at Mach 5 within decades.

Boeing says it will have a working prototype in less than 10 years, with commercial flights taking to the skies in 20 to 30 years. And Hermeus says it will take about a decade to develop its aircraft.

When they do take off, hypersonic planes would need to fly at around 90,000 feet. At that altitude it’s possible to see the darkness of space above.

Getting there might once have seemed like an astronomical feat. But dreams of travelling faster than the speed of sound appear to be moving closer once again.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Coronavirus spread now a global emergency declares World Health Organization

Eurobarometer: Not a single answer about what the Banking Union will cost to citizens

5G: How a ‘legion of robots’ could help save the rhino

How oysters are cleaning New York’s polluted harbor

Online platforms required by law to be more transparent with EU businesses

Our idea of what makes a company successful needs to change. And it starts with making waste expensive

EU trade agreements deliver on growth and jobs, support sustainable development

UN climate summit aims to speed up transition to cleaner, greener future

Security Council hails ‘historic and significant’ joint peace declaration by Ethiopia and Eritrea

The drive for quality education worldwide, faces ‘mammoth challenges’

EU budget for 2021-2027: Commission welcomes provisional agreement on Horizon Europe, the future EU research and innovation programme

With 10 million Yemenis ‘one step away from famine’, donors pledge $2.6 billion

Colombia: New Congress marks rebel group’s transition ‘from weapons to politics’, says UN

Security Council resolution endorses moves towards long-sought Afghanistan peace

GSMA Mobile 360 Series –Digital Societies, in association with The European Sting

Ship Recycling is the Commission’s Titanic

A Sting Exclusive: “Youth voice must be heard in climate change negotiations!”, Bérénice Jond Board Member of European Youth Forum demands from Brussels

Don’t believe the hype: offices are here to stay

UN climate panel says ‘unprecedented changes’ needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C

After globalization what? Europe’s long, straining shake-up post Davos wreckage

This app lets you order leftovers to help fight food waste

Russia is ready for its Phase 3 evaluation once it fulfills high-priority recommendation

Baku forum to push back against ‘rise of hate’ with strong call for cultural and religious tolerance, says UN official

EU cross-border payments outside Eurozone: MEPs scrap excessive fees

More than one million sexually transmitted infections occur every day: WHO

Managing and resolving conflicts in a politically inclined group of team members

All at sea during COVID-19 lockdown? Try these sailor survival tips

One in three fish caught never gets eaten

Chernobyl nuclear disaster-affected areas spring to life, 33 years on

It’s Brexit again: Nigel Farage launches a personal campaign to lead the ‘No’ front

A short history of climate change and the UN Security Council

As a rising global power, what is India’s vision for the world?

Putting a price on carbon will help New York state achieve a clean energy future

Chatterbox Rome Declaration cannot save the EU; Germany has to pay more to do that

Child victims of DRC Ebola outbreak need ‘special attention and care’: UNICEF

Opening – Parliament expresses support for victims of Fuego volcano in Guatemala

Niger population’s suffering ‘increasing with each passing month’: UN Refugee Agency

Amid Venezuela exodus, UN refugee envoy Angelina Jolie visits camps on Colombian border, appeals for humanity, more support

A European young student shares his thoughts on Quality Education

The EU Parliament unanimously rejects Commission’s ideas about ‘seeds’

The 8 pieces of digital DNA we need to thrive in the AI age

5G in Russia: a local and global view on the way forward, in association with The European Sting

A Sting Exclusive: “Change is challenge, change is opportunity”, Commissioner Bienkowska cries out live from European Business Summit 2015

Visa Facilitation and Readmission: the European Union and Belarus sign agreements

‘Virtual Biopsy’ device detects skin tumours in 15 minutes

G20 LIVE: “United States and Turkey stand in solidarity with France and its people in handing the perpetrators of this crime and bringing them to justice”, US President Barack Obama underlines from G20 in Antalya Turkey

Algorithms could give the world its first ‘born digital’ free trade agreement in Africa

Joint press release: Republic of Korea – EU Leaders’ video conference meeting

MEPs back first EU management plan for fish stocks in the Western Mediterranean

Venezuela: ‘A worrying destabilizing factor in the region’, Bachelet tells Human Rights Council

Guinea-Bissau needs ‘genuinely free and fair elections’ to break cycle of instability

Europe provides financial support to African countries while Turkey denies to change terrorism laws jeopardising the EU deal

Drones, disinfectant, distancing – Europe’s beaches open up

This company helps women to become solar entrepreneurs

What meat consumption has brought to the environment and how herbal diets can help human health

IMF: All you want to know about Argentina

The power of trust and values in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Will Merkel ever steer the EU migration Titanic and restore her power in Germany?

From the Field: Women push for peace

The West definitively cuts Russia off from the developed world

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s