Flight of the Future at Five Times the Speed of Sound

A recent report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in Britain proposes that by the year 2075 commercial aircraft, called “Scramjets”, will be capable of completing a New York to London flight in less than an hour by flying at five times the speed of sound (4,000mph). With a maximum speed of 600mph, the Boeing 747 is believed to be the fastest airplane currently in commercial service. The Soviet Supersonic Tupolev Tu-144 and the Concorde exceeded that speed, but neither is in service any longer. The fastest transatlantic flight between New York’s JFK Airport and Heathrow in London took place on 7 February 1996, covering the distance in 2 hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) is urging British authorities to invest in the aerospace industry to be at the forefront of aviation technology development, as well as to boost the country’s economy. With the UK aerospace sector currently employing more than 100,000 people, and being worth more than £29 billion a year to the economy, it ranks as the world’s second largest player in this competitive sector. Chief executive of IME, Stephen Tetlow, notes that this position is threatened by newcomers to the market, most notably China, making it imperative for authorities to take action to maintain the country’s position as a leader in aerospace technology.

The passenger plane envisioned by engineers would be solar-powered, and would save on fuel by flying in V-formation in a similar way to that of migrating geese. Following in one another’s slipstream would dramatically improve the aerodynamics of flight through drag reduction and airflow lift. Further aerodynamic features would include a blended wing and fuselage. Additional proposals include an aircraft carrier system, with a larger aircraft carrying individual craft to be released in-flight at predetermined destinations, and a flying fuel station to allow aircraft to take off with minimum fuel weighing them down.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers report categorizes these futuristic aircraft into three types, being subsonic, supersonic and hypersonic. Subsonic planes would travel slower than the speed of sound, while supersonic jets would travel faster than the speed of sound, with hypersonic planes travelling at up to more than five times the speed of sound.