The concept of supersonic air travel was confined to the aviation industry’s dusty attic when Air France and British Airways collectively announced plans to retire the Concorde in 2003. Airbus has shown little interest in relaunching the speed war, but rival Boeing plans to put a mind-bogglingly fast hypersonic jet in the skies in the coming decades. The Washington-based firm released the first sketch of an early prototype during a conference in Atlanta.
The rendering shows a slim, triangular aircraft with a sharp nose and a pair of fins on the tail. It’s considerably more streamlined than the hypersonic concept we saw in January. It’s not unlike the Concorde when it comes to design but it’s considerably faster. CNBC reports the yet-unnamed plane will be able to cruise at Mach 5, which corresponds to approximately 3,900 mph. That’s over seven times the average cruising speed of a commercial jet like the Airbus A330.
Cruising at Mach 5 would cut down the time it takes to fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo to about three hours. Flying from New York to London would take little more than two hours. You’ll need to choose your movie carefully because you won’t be able to watch more than one. To add context, the aforementioned flights take 11 and seven hours, respectively, in 2018.
Boeing stresses the rendering shows a concept; it’s the plane equivalent of the wild, futuristic-looking design studies car companies often display at auto shows around the world. In other words: don’t expect to take a two-hour trip from New York to Paris anytime soon. The firm refuses to speculate precisely when the jet will fly but Kevin Bowcutt, Boeing’s chief scientist of hypersonics, says it could happen in the next 20 to 30 years. Reaching such high speeds requires putting a tremendous amount of time and effort into developing lightweight materials strong enough to withstand hypersonic speed and new propulsion technologies.
While Airbus won’t join the race, Boeing’s forward-looking hypersonic jet will face competition from a number of companies when it reaches the market. Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences are already developing a hypersonic jet. It’s for the nation’s military, but engineers haven’t ruled out making a commercial variant to carry passengers around the globe.