Hypersonic flight through Earth’s atmosphere is defined as travel at speeds greater than 5X the speed of sound (Mach 5).
The speed of sound is 761 mph. 5X the speed of sound is 3,800 mph. For context, the air distance from NY to London is 3,461 miles, and from NY to Los Angeles it is 2,475. Imagine being able to fly these distances in less than 1 hour. Hypersonic air travel start-up, Venus Aero's tagline: “Home for Dinner”, says it all. Who doesn’t want that?
The now retired supersonic Concorde had an air speed of 1,345 mph (Mach 2.04), making it possible to fly from NY to London in about 3 hours. A considerable step up, hypersonic air travel would reduce the trip to less than 1 hour. That’s amazing when you think about the fact that it takes an hour or more to drive across most large cities these days.
There are a myriad of reasons why the Concorde was retired in 2003: an exploding tire that caused a catastrophic accident, the expense of having an extra Concorde always on standby in case it was needed due to the small size of the fleet and the high on-time expectations of wealthy passengers, and the difficulty of making a profitable business from a niche market. You can visit the Concorde for FREE at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
Hypersonic planes have been a US military priority, as it seeks to find a successor to the SR-71 Blackbird, which was retired in 1998. The SR-72, known as the “Son of the Blackbird”, is slated to be completed by 2025, and is expected to reach Mach 6 – the sheer speed of which has been designed to completely avoid enemy missile defense systems.
And, as we know, military applications often lead to solutions for real folks later on. For example, the first workable prototype version of the Internet was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Hypersonic air passenger travel must-haves include reasonable cost, safety and efficiency. Then let’s add environmentally responsible and profitable to the list. That’s a tall order.
Here’s an idea. If the International Space Station can circle the earth every 93 minutes, why not get into space, orbit the earth until you are within range of your desired destination, and then head back down?
Well … do you want the risk of sitting on highly explosive liquid rocket fuel? Do you relish a potentially brutal re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, or being a thin layer away from an outside temperature of 3000 °F., which is enough to instantly vaporize any human being?
None of this is easy … yet. But just because it isn’t easy, doesn’t mean we should “fuhgeddaboudit”.
There are a few American hypersonic air travel start-ups, (hermeus.com, venusaero.com) complete with very slick marketing materials, that are seeking investors with deep pockets, lots of patience and/or bragging rights.
Personally, my bets for the right technological breakthrough are on Lockheed Martin. As a long-standing, proven partner of the U.S. government, it has the talent, experience and innovation chops to do hypersonic. It has the ability to make fiction reality. It’s just a matter of time. And we are living in an incredible time.
“(We thrive) on tackling seemingly impossible work, developing technologies for tomorrow’s challenges before the need is even identified.” (Lockheed Martin)
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