Reaction Engines

New Hypersonic Passenger Jet Design Could Go From The UK To Australia In 4 Hours

ryan.ford 25 Sep 2019

For those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, there are few more daunting flights than traveling Down Under. I've done it, so I can speak with experience.

It's a monster flight — heck, just getting to the biggest part of the flight can involve a long-haul trip. And when you finally get there, you want to spend the first night in this beautiful new country just sleeping.

There's a push to make that a thing of the past, however, and it involves hypersonic travel.

Remember the Concorde?

Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:British_Airways_Concorde_G-BOAC_03.jpg

Before it was retired, you could go from New York to Paris in three and half hours on the Concorde, flying along at speeds of up to Mach 2 (about 1,350 mph). It was the first and only supersonic passenger jet, and it stopped flying in 2003 due to operating and overhaul costs.

But aviation engineers haven't forgotten about the days of super-fast passenger flights, and they're looking to outdo everything the Concorde ever did.

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Britain's Reaction Engines has plans for a hypersonic passenger jet capable of reaching Mach 5.

Unsplash | Keith Zhu

That's about 4,000 mph, which would not only put the Concorde's transatlantic flight times to shame, but people headed Down Under would be able to make the journey from London in just four hours.

Lest you think this is all pie-in-the-sky stuff, Dr Graham Turnock of the U.K. Space Agency says it's already in progress. "This is not sci-fi," he said. "This is not a pipe dream. This is literally in the works. It has the potential to turn air travel on its head."

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Indeed, Reaction Engines passed a huge milestone earlier this year.

Reaction Engines

The company announced in April that it had successfully tested an engine cooling system that would allow its SABRE engine to reach Mach 3.3. For planes flying at those ridiculous speeds, engine heating is a serious concern. At Mach 5, the air temperature inside an engine can get hot enough to melt metal, which is clearly bad news.

The pre-cooler tested chilled the engines down to a manageable temperature in just 1/20th of a second. But obviously Mach 3.3 is not Mach 5, so there's still work to do.

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One of the things that is surprisingly not a big concern with the SABRE engine is emissions.

Reaction Engines

It's powered by hydrogen, so it will only leave water vapor in its wake. Theoretically, SABRE engines might even be able to take passengers into space.

"Unlike jet engines, which are only capable of powering a vehicle up to Mach 3, three times the speed of sound, SABRE engines are capable of Mach 5.4 in air-breathing mode, and Mach 25 in rocket mode for space flight," the website says. "They are simply going to revolutionise the way we travel around the globe, and into orbit."

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Reaction Engines isn't the only company working on hypersonic passenger jets, either.

Boeing

Boeing has its own plans in the works and has unveiled a concept of what it will look like, but has been light on releasing details. Lockheed Martin and Aerion are both working on hypersonic planes, as is Atlanta-based aerospace company Hermeus, founded by former employees of SpaceX and Blue Origin. Hermeus's CEO cautioned that hypersonic passenger flights are still at least a decade off, however.

"We have a ton of flying to do in that time," he told CNN. "We'll have at least two smaller iterations of aircraft that we'll build, test, and learn from in that time."

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And then there's the Stratofly MR3, under development by a consortium of Europe-based aerospace engineers.

Stratofly

The Stratofly MR3 aims to leave all those other hypersonic passenger jets in its vapor trails, reaching speeds of up to Mach 8, or 5,400 mph, cruising along at an altitude of 98,000 feet, NBC News reported.

The trip from New York to Sydney would be whittled down to a mere three hours. Want to go from L.A. to Tokyo? It could do the trip in less than two hours.

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We're not any closer to booking flights on the Stratofly MR3 than any of those other planes, however.

Stratofly

Wind tunnel testing of engine components is due to start later this year, and key technologies aren't expected to be ready until 2035.

Test flights and all the accompanying ironing out of problems would mean that passengers wouldn't be ready to board for at least another decade.

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The Stratofly team will also have one other big hurdle to sort out.

Twitter | @EC_STRATOFLY

At such high speeds, the friction create temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt the aluminum most airliners are made from.

The Stratofly team is looking at materials like carbon fiber-reinforced ceramic, as well as cooling technologies, to manage that heat.

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Although all of these mock-ups, designs, and plans are still a long way off, it's encouraging that so many companies see so much promise in them.

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We may not be able to travel at such ludicrous speeds and make those around-the-world-in-an-afternoon trips for another 25-30 years, but when we do, we'll have these pioneers to thank.

h/t: CNN, NBC News, LadBible

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