Will supersonic air travel return with a boom?

Aerion AS2

Late last year, Aerion announced that 20 of the AS2 supersonic jets they are developing had been ordered by private aircraft provider Flexjet. This comes more than 12 years after the original supersonic airplane, Concorde, hung up its wings. Could this herald the return of supersonic travel?

Flying supersonic

The jets, priced at $120 million (£93 million) each, feature luxurious 30ft long cabins that can hold between eight and 12 passengers.

The service would reduce the flight time between London and New York by three hours, while trans-Pacific flights could be cut by over six hours.

Aerion has big plans of its own, but is in partnership with aerospace giant, Airbus.

Airbus takes the mantle

Earlier this year, Airbus filed a patent for a new supersonic plane that would be capable of flying at four times the speed of sound (over 2,500mph).

The patent describes a plane propelled by three different types of engine:

  • “At least one” jet engine from a standard plane
  • Ramjets, that take in air, compress it, and use it to ignite the fuel
  • A hydrogen and oxygen powered rocket motor

With this configuration, the new aircraft would operate in a similar way to a modern space shuttle. It would use each of its engines for different stages of the flight.

According to the patent, the standard jets and rocket motor would power the plane until it reached the sound barrier. The ramjets take over at high altitudes, allowing the aircraft to cruise on the edge of space.

Concorde flies again?

Airbus isn’t the only company looking into supersonic commercial flights.

About the same time as their supersonic patent was filed, a group of Concorde enthusiasts revealed that they had amassed enough money between them to buy one of the old jets outright.

The group proposed to buy the Concorde on display at Orly airport in Paris before putting it on show next to the London Eye to raise a bit of public interest.

A speedy return?

Aerion and Flexjet are hoping to have a fleet of AS2 supersonic jets in the air, flying commercially by 2023. Airbus, meanwhile, has enough projects in the works to rest on its laurels for the time being.

The Concorde revivers are even more ambitious, with plans to take to the skies by 2019. The team are working on significantly older technology. Even if they managed to bring Concorde back up to spec, most of the components would be over a decade out of date.

Concorde does have one advantage of capacity, because it can carry 120 passengers, six times the number of Airbus’s proposed aircraft.

Whoever gets their planes in the air first, and whoever manages to sell enough seats to keep them there, will make supersonic air travel a reality again.

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