Imagine being able to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in an hour. One hour. It usually takes longer than that to drive from Toronto to Niagara Falls, and that’s with the pedal to the metal.
French aircraft maker Airbus is going to try to make this shortened trip a reality. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has approved an application from the company for a hypersonic jet:
The proposed plane will travel at speeds of up to Mach 4.5 — four-and-a-half times the speed of sound — using three different types of engines. Two turbojets enable the
Enterprise doppelganger aircraft to make a vertical take-off and reach the speed of sound, before retracting into a compartment in the plane. We know, insanely futuristic, right?
Next, the plane basically becomes a rocket, and a rocket engine propels the aircraft up to an altitude of more than 100,000 ft. Then the rocket engine retracts as well, and two wing-mounted ramjets propel the jet up to its Mach 4.5 speed.
But this isn’t going to be some huge airplane like the Boeing Dreamliner. According to the patent documents, Airbus estimates its hypersonic aircraft could carry up to 20 passengers, while the military could potentially use the plane on missions.
And don’t get too excited yet — humans aren’t quite ready for hypersonic travel. Many test flights for hypersonic aircraft have failed completely or shown promise initially, then crashed. The most recent test flight of hypersonic aircraft hailed as a success, conducted in 2013 by NASA, was called the X-51 Waverider. It launched off a B-52 bomber already in flight (which, c’mon, is crazy) and although it accelerated to Mach 5.1 while ascending to 60,000 ft., it crashed into the sea after a few minutes.
“Hypersonic has been likened to lighting a candle in a hurricane. It’s that tough. We’ve been tantalizingly close but still many decades away,” Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at an aerospace and defence industry advisory firm, Teal Group, told IBTimes UK.
The closest thing we’ve had to hypersonic travel was the Concorde jet, which was considered a supersonic aircraft. First flown in 1969, Concorde started service in 1976 and continued commercial flights for 27 years, and only 20 planes were made. After a confluence of factors, including a deadly crash at Charles de Gaulle airport in the year 2000, the line was scrapped. Concorde could fly from New York to London in 3.5 hours, not far off from the proposed hypersonic plane flight time.
Sit tight, aviation fanatics. We might be hurtling through the sky at ridiculous heights and speeds before we know it.