A supersonic aircraft is one defined by its ability to fly faster than the speed of sound, 767 mph. In theory, supersonic planes could cut flight time in half for passengers. As a result, one would think that airlines would invest the bulk of their research and development money into this aspect of air travel, as many passengers would choose the airline that gets them to their destination the quickest.
British Airways and Air France seemed to think so as well, as they were the first to attempt to commercialize supersonic travel. The two companies created the Concorde, a supersonic passenger plane, which reached a maximum speed of Mach 2.04 (1,565 mph), giving it the ability to transport passengers from New York to London in just over three hours. The issue was pressure waves formed in front of and behind the plane that created large sonic booms. Although the people on the plane could not hear these booms, people on the ground could. The booms were fairly disturbing and created an obstacle for supersonic air travel. Furthermore, the planes seriously harmed the environment, and were expensive to fly, resulting in low profits. These factors all contributed to the Concorde being retired from service in 2003.
Since the 2003 failure, supersonic travel has stalled. Investments and advancements in passenger air travel have come primarily in fuel efficiency and the cabin experience. As a result, airline companies try to lock customers in with perks like frequent flyer miles. However, supersonic planes could soon be the way for airlines to differentiate themselves. It follows that startups are now attempting to take on the problems the Concorde was unable to overcome. These startups see that there is a demand for supersonic planes in the both the public and private spheres, and are taking on the challenge to revolutionize passenger air travel.
One such startup taking on supersonic travel is Boom Supersonic. This startup is creating a plane for passengers that would be reasonably affordable, considering the technology and convenience.
Their plane flies at Mach 2.2 (1,688 mph), which is slightly faster than the Concorde, and seats 55 passengers, with a cost of about $5,000 per passenger. Boom already has pre-orders from Virgin Airlines and Japan Airlines, showing the high demand from some big-name airlines. Another startup is Boeing-backed Aerion Supersonic, which plans to make its first flight in 2023. Aerion Supersonic has created a 12-passenger business jet, which travels at Mach 1.4 (1,074 mph), which is slightly slower than Boom Supersonic’s jet. Aerion claims that they have a “modern, quiet, efficient supersonic engine,” thus solving the sonic boom issue that the Concorde faced. Finally, Nasa has worked with Lockheed Martin to reduce their passenger supersonic plane’s “sonic boom” to a “gentle thump.” They claim the sound their engine makes is as loud as a car door closing.
If one of these startups successfully creates a jet that can eliminate the sonic boom, they would take the flight industry by storm. These planes could be available as soon as the mid 2020s, and they would force other aircraft manufacturers to change their strategies. There is little doubt that supersonic travel is the way of the future, now it is just a question of which company will get there first.
Written By Willie Turchetta, Edited by Themis Pappas & Alexander Fleiss
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