New generation of hi-tech planes lead race to resurrect supersonic air travel

Companies are battling to become the first to make a supersonic business jet

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 27 November 2014 15:35

Supersonic air transport looked to have died in 2003, when the Concorde made its last flight. But a new generation of super-fast planes, able to fly at more than 1200mph and perhaps one day able to carry regular passengers, is set to bring new life to supersonic, transatlantic travel.

The race is hotting up to create the fastest transatlantic business jet, with companies including Lockheed Martin and Aerion creating superfast planes that could cut the length of plane journeys in half. And travellers could be buying tickets for the planes by 2025.

Aerion, an American aerospace firm that is focused on building a supersonic business jet, is working on its AS2, which it hopes to become the first such plane. Lockheed Martin is also working on the N+2, which it hopes will do the same thing. Both have been working with NASA.

Both planes will go slightly slower than Concorde, which went twice the speed of sound. Lockheed is aiming for Mach 1.7 for its plane, and Aerion is developing a Mach 1.6 one.

But unlike Concorde, the new planes might be able to fly over land. Concorde only flew translatlantic flights, because it was so noisy that regulators wouldn't let it go anywhere else.

The planes are built of carbon fiber. It will feature swish interiors, to make the likely very high ticket price worth it, as well as the high-tech innovations and design that will allow it to fly so fast.

Aerion hopes that its ‘laminar flow wing’ — which is made using patented technology that allows it to be very straight, wide and thin — will allow the plane to fly fast and over long distances without using too much fuel.

The AS2 will have a range of 5,450 miles, which will allow it to fly between London and Seattle, or San Francisco and Tokyo, non-stop.

But it might have to slow down as it flies over the US. One of the challenges for all companies looking to supersonic air travel is dealing with the sonic boom — an incredibly loud noise that erupts when objects break the speak of sound.

The sonic boom means that current air traffic regulations stop supersonic planes from flying over land, a problem since many of the companies hope to launch their planes to fly coast-to-coast in the US.

Companies are developing new ways of propelling their planes, to get around the problem.

“To achieve revolutionary reductions in supersonic transportation airport noise, a totally new kind of propulsion system is being developed,” said Michael Buonanno, Lockheed Martin manager of the NASA N+2 program. “We are also exploring new techniques for low noise jet exhaust, integrated fan noise suppression, airframe noise suppression and computer customized airport noise abatement.”

Lockheed Martin has built a special wind tunnel and software to test exactly how loud the planes will be. Though it is unlikely to ever be possible to get rid of the noise entirely, the aim is to get the sound “more like a distant thump than a sharp crack”, the company says.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in