Could hypersonic flight be close?
While the aviation industry grapples with the concept of allowing passengers to use their phones on planes, an even more exciting possibility could be just around the corner, with hypersonic travel allegedly in sight at last.
Through the development of a brand new spy plane, scientists are believed to have overcome a major obstacle: the so-called ‘thrust gap’ in the plane’s propulsion that means a more powerful jet engine cannot start functioning until the vehicle is flying at mach 3.5.
It is tricky to get the plane up to these speeds, with conventional jet engines only managing mach 2.5, but with this technical hurdle overcome, it has been suggested Tokyo could be only two hours away for British passengers by 2030.
“It’s a significant step forward. They seem to have simplified things,” says Dr Phillip Atcliffe, senior lecturer in aeronautical engineering at Salford University.
However, the specialist in hypersonic travel played down the hype, adding: “It would shrink the world even more than we already have, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Despite raining on the parade of long distance travellers everywhere, he believes the resources are available and that such incredible speeds will eventually become feasible.
“There’s a lot of technology to be developed and we have to have governments and companies who are prepared to research and design it – and then airlines to buy it,” Mr Atcliffe explained.
However, problems still remain, and the technology is easier to apply to an unmanned spy jet than it is to a plane full of passengers.
With the vehicle ploughing through the air at 5,000 miles per hour, there are safety issues to be considered, and constant maintenance required to keep it capable of flying.
However, with hypersonic development and the records being set by Virgin Galactic, the future of commercial air travel looks very exciting indeed.