A new generation of aircraft manufacturers is working to bring back commercial supersonic travel more than 13 years after Concorde made its last flight.
Using modern technology, firms are trying to make supersonic jets that are quieter, safer, more efficient and more economical to run.
“The viability of supersonic flight depends entirely on the ability to reduce operating costs sufficiently to allow a viable business model,” said Boom Supersonic, one of today’s contenders.
“Surprisingly, this requires just a 30% efficiency improvement over Concorde's 50 year-old airframe and engines.”
A start-up created by former Amazon employee and certified pilot Blake Scholl, Boom is focused on driving down ticket prices to make supersonic flight, if not mainstream, much more commonplace than the notoriously exclusive Concorde.
It is designing its aircraft so operators can fly them profitably while charging the same fare as regular business-class flights, according to the company. It claims the aircraft will have the same fuel consumption, and therefore emissions profile, as a sub-sonic business class flight.
A round trip from London to New York would cost around $5,000, a figure many business class customers are already willing to pay, Scholl told Bloomberg.
Another key differntiator, according to the company, is the aircraft’s smaller capacity compared with Concorde. With only 45 seats, similar to the amount of premium seating in a standard, Boom expects its aeroplane to be easier to fill to capacity.
The firm has recently found backing from Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic.
One of Concorde’s main limitations was its noise. Many national airspace regulators do not allows supersonic flight over land because of the sonic boom, two loud cracks the aeroplane makes when breaking the sound barrier.
It is unsurprising then that many of the new generation of supersonic aircraft makers are working to reduce noise and subdue the sonic boom.
Aerion Corporation, whose supersonic aircraft will have thin, short wings quite unlike Concorde’s delta wing, said its aeroplane will have “boomless flight” at speeds of Mach 1.2. If successful, it hopes the US Civil Aviation Authority and other authorities will grant it permission to fly supersonic over land.
The firm is working with Airbus Defence and Space to develop composite materials to reduce weight while improving strength and rigidity.
Another firm trying to eliminate the sonic boom is Spike Aerospace. The Boston based engineering and design firm said its supersonic jet will be able to fly at Mach 1.6 without producing a boom. It claims its sonic signature will sound “like a soft clap or background noise”.
NASA too is moving into the quiet supersonic field, alongside military contractor Lockheed Martin.
“Developing, building and flight testing a quiet supersonic X-plane is the next logical step in our path to enabling the industry’s decision to open supersonic travel for the flying public,” said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission.
Shin was speaking at an event in February where Lockheed Martin was awarded $20m to start the preliminary design work on its Quiet Supersonic Technology.