“Concords” of the XXI century: how manufacturers are preparing to return supersonic airliners


The date October 24, 2003 went down in history as the day when aviation almost stepped back for the first time: Concorde last landed at Heathrow Airport, completing its 27-year history of commercial traffic at supersonic speeds. Everything played against the liner: the high cost of service, the high cost of tickets, the rise in fuel prices, the only disaster three years earlier in Paris. Since then, several companies have been working to revive the idea of ​​the Concord and the Soviet Tu-144. Let the time of these aircraft pass, but passenger flights at speeds faster than sound will definitely return – at least, the current designers are determined.

Concorde problems have long been voiced. The liner was in all senses “too”: too “gluttonous”, too expensive, too large. For the most part, Air France and British Airways needed it for the image. Now everything will be different. A new generation of supersonic airplanes is being made not for the status of airlines, but for profit, and the concept of the aircraft is different. In total, three American companies, Aerion Supersonic, Spike Aerospace and Boom Supersonic, announced their intention to release supersonic airplanes for passenger traffic.

Concorde. Image:

Business jet for those in a hurry

The company Aerion appeared one of the first. She did not aim at regular shipments, as was the case with the Concorde and Tu-144. According to a startup, the future of supersonic airplanes is business aviation. There are many reasons for this theory. First, only very wealthy people flew to Concorde – those who paid thousands of dollars more without hesitation to save three hours. Secondly, it is a little easier to create an airplane for 10-12 passengers. Thirdly, it will be cheaper than a whopper with a capacity for a hundred people.

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The result was AS2. The business jet is designed for about a dozen passengers, but the company provides different layouts for the cabin. Since purchases by private individuals are not excluded, any whim of a client capable of putting out a bag with $ 120 million must be foreseen – the company voiced such a sum for the final version of AS2.

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The maximum speed will be 1.4 Mach. This is about 1,700 km / h, but much depends on specific conditions: Mach is not a constant value. The flight range is expected to be at the level of 7500 kilometers, which is suitable for the main use of supersonic aircraft – the fastest flight over the Atlantic. As in the case of the Concorde, the flights will take place at a much higher altitude – about 18 thousand meters, compared to 9-11 thousand for ordinary aircraft. Important feature: Aerion declares that there will be no sound of cotton on the ground at the moment of overcoming the sound barrier by plane.

By the way, in the USA since 1973, passenger liners are forbidden to fly at speeds above Mach 1 over the territory of the country. This is a strange ban, considering that since the end of 2003 there are no such aircraft on flights at all, and other civilian aircraft, with all their desire, cannot overcome the speed of sound (except in peak). Now the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States may decide to allow such aircraft to fly.

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It could be stated that Aerion makes beautiful AS2 renderings and requests money from investors, but in reality everything is much more serious and realistic. The company has signed contracts with GE Aviation and Honeywell Aerospace for the supply of engines and equipment for the cabin, Lockheed Martin is involved in the development of the vessel. Moreover, in 2015, Aerion received an order for 20 aircraft from Flexjet, an airline that deals with private transportation. Judging by the information on the site, the deal is still relevant: Flexjet will receive at the disposal of AS2 already in 2023. And in the next 12 months, the vessel must make the first flight, after which two-year certification is expected.

Concorde, only smaller

Even more ambitious plans for Boom Supersonic. The company is working on Overture with a capacity of about 50 people in a single-class configuration (Concorde had about a hundred places). There are also plans to release a liner with two salons – business and first class. Nobody stutters about economy: flights at supersonic speeds, if they are equal in price to tickets for regular flights, it is not very soon. However, the head of Boom Technology, Blake Scholl, says: “For such a flight you do not need to be on the Forbes list.” Allegedly, the cost of the ticket will be comparable to the price of a normal business class.

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Appeared in 2014, the company raised more than $ 140 million. The amount for the aircraft maker (also the creator of the ultra-modern liner) is small, but Boom Supersonic has already assembled a prototype of the XB-1 – a small plane that will run around. The first flight will take place this year.

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Now is the work on Boom Overture. The voiced figures inspire: the flight range is 8300 kilometers, the speed is 2.2 Mach, cotton promises to be 30 times quieter when reaching supersonic speed compared to Concorde, the distance between London and New York will be overrun in 3 hours and 15 minutes instead of seven hours – It’s even 15 minutes faster than the Concord. Overture price will be about $ 200 million. Pre-orders have already left Japan Airlines, Virgin Group and several other airlines.

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No portholes

Spike Aerospace project looks the most futuristic. Take at least the fact that the passenger compartment Spike S-512 Quiet Supersonic Jet will be without portholes. Instead, the manufacturer will install panoramic displays. Outdoor cameras will give a gorgeous view overboard, and if necessary, passengers will be able to display their content on the screen – for example, presentations. A similar idea was presented by Emirates for the interior of the Boeing 777-300ER last summer.

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According to the concept, the Spike S-512 is close to the Aerion AS2 – a small aircraft for business aviation, designed for 12-18 passengers. The ship’s speed will be 1.6 Mach. “You can quickly get from Paris to Dubai for shopping and entertainment, and then return home for dinner ,” promises Spike Aerospace. With a flight distance of almost 10 thousand kilometers, the plane will fly almost anywhere and do it very quickly. For example, a ship will not need refueling on flights London – Hong Kong or New York – Dubai.

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It is known that the company is already building several prototypes for testing, and the flight of a full-scale model is expected around 2021. In two more years, the first copies of the Spike S-512 will be shipped to customers.

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Boeing Revenge

Concern definitely wants to recoup for a missed duel with Concorde. In the 1960s, the company worked on the supersonic Boeing 2707, which was supposed to surpass the Anglo-French airliner in everything: it was assumed that the American plane would hold about 270 passengers and fly at a speed of 2.7 Mach. But the program was curtailed in 1971 due to too much development costs and environmental safety issues.

This is how the Boeing 2707 should have looked. Image:

Now Boeing undertook to make at once a hypersonic aircraft capable of developing a speed above 5 Machs (about 6000 km / h). It sounds quite incredible, but in the summer the company showed a concept.

The concern’s engineers declare that the liner can be used for military and civilian purposes. A whole team is working on the project, that is, the shown plane is not just a fantasy of designers. Senior Technical Director Greg Hyslop company adjusted optimistically: “It may not be as difficult as people think. But it will still be difficult . 

If supersonic liners will fly at an altitude of about 18 thousand meters, then the hypersonic plane needs to go even higher – about 30 kilometers from the ground. This only adds a headache to designers: in case of decompression at a similar height, everyone on board will instantly die. And to give passengers spacesuits – is to kill the comfort of the flight. But Boeing has already come up with a solution. As planned, the pressure in the cabin will remain even during depressurization. Engineers do not answer the question “how?”

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Speed ​​5 Mach is not taken from the ceiling. For such an aircraft, it is not necessary to invent new materials: titanium alloys, which are used in modern liners, will do. But even faster aircraft will require the development of other materials and hypersonic engines.

Omnipresent China does not stand aside: local specialists have already tested a reduced model of a hypersonic airliner – they say, thanks to the speed of more than 6000 km / h, the flight from Beijing to New York will take only a couple of hours. It is known that the aircraft will receive four wings to reduce shaking during turbulence. But all this is still from the category of beautiful rumors: the project is kept secret and is not shown to anyone, and it is not clear which engines will be used.

A beautiful future can hack “green”. The International Environmentally Friendly Transport Council (ICCT) analyzed the supersonic aircraft under construction and decided that such liners would burn 5-7 times more fuel per passenger than conventional ships. Consequently, carbon dioxide emissions will also be decent, plus high noise during takeoff and overcoming the speed of sound.

Apparently, the manufacturers will not be able to dismiss such research: it was ICCT that in 2014 undertook to study Volkswagen diesel, which turned out to be one of the largest (and expensive) scandals in the history of the automotive industry. But panic is premature: so far, the new generation of supersonic airplanes are only preparing to return, and manufacturers have serious plans to develop flights at speeds faster than sound. In the coming years, it will be clear how they will manage to get around the resentment of environmentalists.


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