Airplanes, capable of flying faster than sound, were considered the fastest mode of transport until recently. The latest developments indicate that technology has evolved to such levels that commercial planes traveling several times faster than sound will be a reality in the foreseeable future.
Though the technology to break the sound barrier was developed and perfected by aircraft makers decades ago, most commercial airplanes still operate at subsonic speeds. For the past many years, the aerospace giant Boeing (BA) has been working on enhancing its supersonic prowess to achieve speeds much higher than that of sound.
This week, the Chicago, Illinois-based aircraft maker unveiled a rendering of the first-ever design for its hypersonic jet capable of flying five times faster than sound. That means, at optimum speeds the aircraft will be able to cover the distance between the US and Japan in three hours.
At speeds of approximately 4,000 mph, passengers of hypersonic flights from New York to London could plan their trips cutting the travel time to just two hours from the seven hours it currently takes.
However, it’s too early to predict when the hypersonic flights will become the common man’s mode of travel – though there are speculations that commercial operations could commence by 2050 – with the primary roadblocks being technological challenges and the astronomical costs involved.
Boeing Wednesday unveiled a rendering of the first-ever design for its hypersonic jet capable of flying five times faster than sound
It will depend on the company’s capacity to invest in such a huge project and its profitability, the factors that cause skepticism among industry experts who raise questions about the operational and financial viability of hypersonic air transportation in general.
For instance, the lightweight materials to be used for the fuselage, for achieving the high speeds, need to be developed and tested for safety. Also, designing and building the high-performance engine is a time-consuming task, which could take several years.
For quite some time, building superfast commercial jets has been a pet project of Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who at last year’s Paris Air Show said, “I think in the next decade or two you’re going to see them become a reality. We see future innovations where you could connect around the world in about two hours.”
Boeing stock, which climbed to an all-time high earlier this month, dipped slightly in early trading Wednesday after opening higher.
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