Supersonic flights: how close is the tech to reality?

There are several companies that are working on the development of supersonic flights. What seemed to be a distant memory could soon become a reality once again. This time, with even greater speed!
Boom Technology
Boom Technology is set to be one of the first manufacturers to bring back commercial supersonic aviation. Photo: Boom Supersonic Facebook Page

It is now 16 years since Concorde stopped operations. While in business, the British-French turbojet broke records with rapid flight speeds across the Atlantic. In February 1996, a British Airways Concorde reached London from New York in just two hours 52 minutes and 59 seconds.

The aircraft had hit a top speed of 1,350mph, over twice the speed of sound. However high price and low demand for the service ultimately meant that the aircraft was retired in October 2003.

A new generation

However, with new innovations reaching their fruition stage, supersonic travel could be back in business. Recently, Aerospace manufacturer Reaction Engines successfully tested its precooler at airflow temperature conditions representing Mach 5, which is five times the speed of sound. This means that if implemented into working standards, the transatlantic trip can be completed in 120 minutes.

BA Concorde
Reaction Engines is hoping to break Concorde’s previous record. Photo: Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia Commons

This testing is the result of 30 years of hard work from Reaction Engines. The British firm was founded in 1989 by three propulsion engineers from Rolls-Royce. Alan Bond, Richard Varvill and John Scott-Scott put together their minds to break through with this milestone.

A proud moment

From the group, Richard Varvill shared his delight with the result in a press release. The engineer claims that the innovation will overhaul the way high-speed flight is conducted.

“This is a momentous landmark for Reaction Engines in the development of its SABRE engine, which has the potential to revolutionize both access to space and high-speed flight by powering aircraft to five times the speed of sound,” Varvill said according to the press release.

“The performance of our proprietary precooler technology was validated at hypersonic flight conditions and takes us closer to realizing our objective of developing the first air-breathing engine capable of accelerating from zero to Mach 5.”

Close to completion

Other companies are also in the running to take on the feat of breaking flight-time records in the upcoming decade. American startup Boom technology is designing the Overture, a 55-passenger supersonic aircraft with 8,300 km of range.

Boom Aircraft
Supersonic aircraft could come quicker than we think. Photo: Boom Supersonic

According to Simple Flying, the product already has 30 preorders between the Virgin Group and Japan Air Lines. However, once in operation, this model will reach Mach 2.2, less than half of the test conducted by Reaction Engines.

Nonetheless, the Overture is poised to be introduced into the aviation industry. This would mean that we could shortly see Concorde-like speeds once again. Therefore, supersonic speed is on the horizon. This will then mean that companies will continue to try and outdo each other, possibly by consulting firms such as Reaction Engines to reach greater speeds.

With the world becoming more connected socially and economically, the demand for such a service has never been greater. Airlines are striving to invest in new technology and increase direct routes between cities. Therefore, they will welcome the opportunity to operate supersonic aircraft.

What do you think of the prospects of supersonic flight? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

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