It was 1976, and a trans-Atlantic supersonic flight on the Concorde from London to New York took between three to four hours. The same journey today takes a little more than seven hours on an Airbus or a Boeing.
It's been nearly 20 years since the legendary supersonic Concorde which clocked more than Mach 2 (2,000 km/h), stopped its commercial operations.
Travelling twice the speed of sound with extravagant luxury, since then, took a halt.
However, given today's technological advancements, the idea of a faster supersonic airliner may be a reality soon, unlocking new possibilities for global connectivity.
But, why did the Concorde stop operations?
Concorde, a British and French aviation collaboration, was the first airliner to surpass the speed of sound and made the infamous sonic boom while breaking the sound barrier. The boom could be heard by people tens of thousands of feet below, enough to cause hearing problems.
Hence, supersonic flights got limited to flying over oceans, causing financial strains for countries. The bird even got banned in several countries including Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, West Germany, and Switzerland.
The economics simply didn't work. For every hour of flight, it would take hours of maintenance by a dedicated staff. Owing to its high fuel consumption, affordability became a factor too. Only a select few could afford the tickets, so the Concorde never flew at full capacity.
Environmental concerns regarding greenhouse gas emissions harming the ozone layer caught pace. Concorde had a service ceiling of 60,000 feet, quite close to the ozone layer.
The final nail in the coffin was the crash of Air France 4590 soon after takeoff from Paris's Charles de Gaulle, which claimed all 109 lives onboard and 4 on the ground. The reason for the accident is said to be a ruptured fuel tank catching fire, but the incident soured the image of the 'Queen of the Skies.'
Revival of supersonic airliners
The leading force behind the supersonic return is Overture by Denver-based Boom. With advanced sustainable fuel and carbon composite material, the jet is set to be quieter and cleaner. United became the first taker of the jet, striking a $3 billion deal. American, Japan Airlines and the US Airforce have shown interest too. The Overture is expected to make its maiden flight in 2025 and start passenger operations by 2029 cruising at Mach 1.8.
Swiss Destinus is working on a green hydrogen-powered hypersonic aircraft that is said to travel at Mach 5, meaning any destination in the world would be within four hours of reach. Aided by the Spanish government, the project is presently in prototype development and simulation stage. If successful, it could be the next sustainable and fastest carrier for the coming decades.
Texas startup Venus Aerospace recently unveiled the Stargazer spaceplane, a hypersonic jet aiming to travel at Mach 9, nine times the speed of sound. The innovative aircraft plans to connect global cities in under an hour by cruising with zero-emission rocket engines. As of now, Venus has developed an engine and is conducting experiments with hypersonic simulations.
The Chinese have joined the race too. Beijing's Lingkong Tianxing is working on a 12-passenger jet capable of flying at a speed of Mach 5. The ultra-high-speed jet aims to connect New York and Beijing in just one hour and is scheduled for flight testing this year.
NASA and Lockheed Martin have joined hands to develop the X-59 SuperSonic Technology (QueSST), aimed at reducing sonic booms over land. Building upon this technology, Lockheed Martin plans to create a 40-seat ultra-fast commercial aircraft called the Quiet Supersonic Technology Airliner (QSTA).