New jet 'will allow half-hour flights to US'

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The Independent Online

Successful tests have taken place of a revolutionary new jet engine that would allow commuters of the future to fly to New York just half an hour - the time it takes to make the average journey to work each day.

Hypersonic jets using the new British-designed engines are likely to become a reality within our lifetime, according to experts from QinetiQ, the company behind the technology.

Arthur Kearse, one of the people working on the project at QinetiQ, said: "Money is the real fuel for these types of projects. We may be talking about another 40 or 50 years before hypersonic flight could become a reality at the current pace of development.

"If a multi-billionaire were to invest serious money into this, then hypersonic flight for people could become a reality sooner."

The "scramjet" engine has been developed by scientists at Farnborough, Hampshire, where the world's first jet engine was invented in the 1930s.

It works by taking oxygen from the atmosphere to burn hydrogen fuel and is designed to travel at up to eight times the speed of sound.

A hypersonic plane would reduce the time taken to travel between any two places on Earth to just two hours, but fighting the forces of friction is pushing aerodynamics to its limits.

Scientists are working on ways to overcome the problems created by the sheer amount of heat generated by the new technology, with the engine producing temperatures of around 2,000C.

Researchers from the University of Queensland conducted the tests yesterday in the Australian outback about 300 miles north of Adelaide. A scramjet engine was attached to a rocket and launched to an altitude of 200 miles in just 10 minutes. Further tests will be carried out this year in Japan and the US.