Travellers who lament the passing of Concorde – the aircraft was grounded for good in October 2003 and British Airways has given no indication it will take to the skies again – may yet have an opportunity to experience a transatlantic supersonic flight.
The Boston-based engineering firm Spike Aerospace has unveiled plans to develop Spike S-512, a 12-18 seater supersonic private jet designed for commercial use and supposedly capable of flying from New York to London in under four hours – that's about half the time taken by current commercial flights. Those aircraft typically fly at Mach 0.85 (about 900 km/h); sound travels at a speed of about 1234 km/h at sea level, and Spike S-512 is predicted to reach speeds of Mach 1.6-1.8 (1700-1900 km/h).
There are impediments to be overcome – not least a ruling from America's Federal Aviation Administration that prohibits supersonic flight over land in its jurisdiction and the estimated cost of up to $US80 million ($A91 million) per private jet – but the developers have spent years honing their design and believe the aircraft could take off by late 2018.
Spike Aerospace is not the only company committing itself to offering supersonic flights, however. The Nevada-based company Aerion Corporation has submitted plans for the development of a private jet that could reach speeds of Mach 1.6, potentially carrying its first passengers by the end of the decade. HyperMach Aerospace Ltd, meanwhile, has proposed the development of SonicStar, a jet the company claims would reach Mach 4 (about 4200 km/h and approximately twice the speed of Concorde) and could speed from London to Sydney in an afternoon or from New York to London in about an hour. The firm estimates it could enter production in the 2020s.
Such claims might seem fanciful but supersonic travel, albeit on a rather grander scale, is set to become a reality for select members of the paying public in 2014. From its Foster + Partners-designed "spaceport" in the New Mexico desert, Virgin Galactic is scheduled to launch its first commercial flights into space before the year is out. The third supersonic test flight of its "passenger-carrying reusable space vehicle" SpaceShipTwo (SS2) took place in January and all of its test objectives were successfully completed.
Richard Branson will be on board the inaugural flight and will be followed on subsequent flights by some 600 customers who have paid the $US250,000 ($A285,000) ticket price required to explore the final frontier.
The Telegraph, London