About two years ago the European company EADS showcased their idea for a hypersonic passenger jet at the Paris Le Bourget air show. At this point the aircraft is still purely a concept with blueprints as EADS has said it will probably be another 40 years until commercial flights take place. Nevertheless, the designs planned for this airplane are unlike any passenger plane the world has ever seen.
First of all, it would fly at over 3,000 mph. At about Mach 4, that is faster than some military jets, and at this speed, it would be able to fly from London to Tokyo in 2 hours, cutting about 9 hours off of the flight time. It will be able to do this because of its three different types of engines. For takeoff it has a set of regular jet engines. This is to prevent the loud sonic boom near ground level upon surpassing the speed of sound (this was one of the problems that bothered people about the Concord design. Once the plane reaches a sufficient altitude, the pilot engages the rocket engines which propel the aircraft much faster and closer to the edge of our atmosphere. At that point, the final engines, known as ramjets would kick in. These engines are extremely powerful and are typically used in missiles for speeds over 1,000 mph. Also, all of these engines will be powered using hydrogen and oxygen biofuels resulting in the only emissions being water.
In order to get up to that high of speeds, the aircraft will be flying at an altitude of more than 100,000 ft (still within the earth’s atmosphere). This is 70,000 feet higher than the altitude a typical Boeing 747 passenger plane flies at!
One of the problems with this design however, is that it will only hold about 100 passengers maximum which will make it difficult for the airlines to make money from using this plane. That is not going to stop EADS from designing the plane however, because they believe that by the middle of the century, these types of planes will be the only large passenger aircraft in use.
Honestly, all of this technology is just so incredibly innovative to me. It makes me proud that there are companies who want to pursue these innovative and revolutionary aircraft designs even though there is a significant level of financial risk involved.