The return of supersonic passenger flights

The return of supersonic passenger flights

In supersonic flights, planes gain speed as they accelerate so much that they move faster than the speed of sound, the BBC notes. At an altitude of 18,300 m, this means flying at more than 1,060 km / h. Usually passenger planes move at about 800-900 km / h. Overture is expected to be capable of speeds of 1,805 km / h. Such a speed is also known as 1.7 Mach. At such speeds, travel time on transatlantic routes such as that from London to New York can be halved.

The American airline United has announced its plans to purchase 15 new supersonic aircraft and “return the supersonic speeds to aviation” by 2029. This may be the beginning of a second era of air travel – supersonic but also sustainable. The supersonic passenger flights ended in 2003, when Air France and British Airways retired their Concorde aircraft. The new Overture supersonic aircraft will now be manufactured by a company called Boom, headquartered in Denver, USA, which has not yet tested its supersonic developments. The United deal is conditional: it will depend on how the new aircraft meets safety standards. Boom says Overture will be able to reduce the trip to 3.5 hours. This sounds impressive for traveling across the ocean. Concorde, which began flying with passengers in 1976, was even faster with a top speed of Mach 2.04 – about 2180 km / h.

Challenges There are two main concerns with supersonic passenger travel: noise and pollution. Traveling at speeds above sound causes a sound “crash” that can be heard on the ground as a loud thunder or explosion. That’s where the name of the company Boom comes from.

This sharp sound limits the space for supersonic aircraft to fly. They usually have to maintain a lower speed until they reach the ocean, away from people and settlements, so as not to disturb them with this loud “crash”. Boom is confident that her plane will not be noisier than other modern passenger planes as it takes off, flies over land and lands. The company also hopes for improvements in aircraft design, as Concorde will help reduce and mitigate the sound boom. The second problem is fuel consumption. “To fly at the speed of sound, you will need more energy, so you will need more fuel,” Katie Savitt, Boom’s chief commercial officer, told the BBC. However, she says Overture will be a “zero-carbon aircraft”.

Sustainability Can supersonic travel really be “sustainable”? The main focus of Boom’s plan is for Overture to run entirely on sustainable aviation fuel (Saf). This could be, for example, biodiesel made from anything – from animal waste fats or from the agricultural industry or even from specially grown high-energy crops, explains Dr. Guy Gratton, an associate professor of aviation and the environment at Cranfield University. A problem in such a scenario remains that “the world is very far from having even a faint resemblance to the production capacity needed. ”. With the resources available, it is not possible to produce enough biofuel to power the entire aviation industry, he said.

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