Virgin Galactic's super long haul plans
Richard Branson believes that, in his children's lifetime, a flight from Australia to London could take as little as two hours.
Within a generation it will be possible to fly from Australia to London in less than two hours. That's the prediction of Virgin founder Richard Branson.
And he's well on the way to making it happen.
Much has been made of Branson's space travel company Virgin Galactic and its aims to carry tourists into space. But in a recent conversation with Traveller.com.au, Branson revealed that the end game for the company is not space tourism, but a new form of ultra-fast long-haul travel.
"I think in my children's lifetime you'll definitely be able fly London to Australia, in the air, I think you could be less than two hours.
"By the time you've got through the airport etcetera, it could be more like four or five hours. But the flight itself could be really quick."
Virgin Galactic's initial purpose has been focused on space tourism, with many wealthy would-be astronauts forking out $US200,000 for a joy flight.
But Branson said his team are looking at using the technology they have developed to make international flights.
"At Virgin Galactic we've got 500 wonderful engineers there and they are very keen to move Virgin Galactic into point-to-point travel at tremendous speed," he said.
There are also a number of other design firms and aviation companies looking at high-speed aircraft that could cut travel times between Australia and London to four hours or less.
NASA and Lockheed Martin have worked on designs for a new supersonic craft that has been dubbed "Son of Concorde". One of the supersonic Concorde's big drawbacks was its inability to fly at speed over land, due to its creation of sonic booms. Lockheed Martin is working on ways to reduce the impact of sonic booms.
And on the other side of the Atlantic, KLM recently revealed its own design, developed in partnership with TU Delft University in the Netherlands, that does away with the traditional fuselage and wings replacing it with a single integrated, "blended wing" body.
Branson said he believes Airbus or some of the other designers might be compete with Virgin Galactic but, given the expense of developing the new technologies, some may end up working together.
Air travel has been little changed over the last 40 years, with the biggest advances coming in fuel efficiency and distance, rather than speed.
The development of carbon fibre aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, has been the biggest change in recent years and one that Branson also played a part in.
"We flew a plane around the world non-stop, the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer, with Steve Fossett flying it some years ago," Branson said. "It was made of all carbon-composite material in an attempt to try to show Boeing and Airbus, look, you can build planes with carbon fibre which will save a lot of fuel.
"Now you've got the (Airbus) A350 and the 787 plane which are made largely of carbon composite material. That means they're using a lot less fuel, which is good for the environment and good for the travelling public because it keeps fares down."
Virgin Galactic's first passenger flight has faced numerous delays, falling well short of the initial plans for the first flight in late 2013. The biggest setback was last year's crash of the SpaceShipTwo craft during a test flight that killed the co-pilot.