Since the grounding of Concorde, flying has become pedestrian, with almost all journeys still taking as long as they did 30 years ago. Thanks to projects such as Skylon, N+2 and more though, that is about to change.
Reaction Engines' Skylon superjet has just been supplied funding by the UK government.
The brainchild of Reaction Engines and BAE Systems, the Skylon super plane is a hypersonic aircraft that utilises a pair of revolutionary Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engines. Dubbed SABRE, these aerospace engines allow the aircraft to operate both in the Earth’s lower stratosphere - the layer that most commercial jets operate in - and also in low Earth orbit.
A cutaway image of a SABRE engine. A series of internal heat exchangers cool hot airstreams incredibly fast.
This ability to skim space will mean that the Skylon will be capable of taking off from a traditional commercial jet runway, fly to the edge of space, and then land anywhere else in the world within just 4 hours. For context, right now it takes just under 4 hours for a commercial jet to get from London to Istanbul, and three times that to get from London to Tokyo.
The key piece of tech that is making this all possible is the next generation heat exchangers that allow the SABRE units to cool hot airstreams from over 1,000°C to minus 150°C in less than 1/100th of a second.
One of the unique selling points with Skylon is its ability to take off and land at standard, commercial airports.
Will it happen? Well, right now, it certainly looks promising, as the UK government has just driven a dump truck load of cash up to Reaction Engines and BAE Systems, with the current deadline for a working system set at 2020.
Is the Aerion AS2 going to be the new Concorde?
Costing over $100 million (£60m) and set for launch in 2019, the Aerion AS2 is another superjet with slightly more modest goals. Pitched as a business jet, the AS2 looks like it wants to be the new Concorde, with the aircraft looking like it and featuring some similar specifications. For example, the AS2 is capable of flying at up to 1,217mph (Concorde could fly up to 1,350mph) and can complete a journey from London to New York in just 3 hours (Concorde’s record was 2 hours 54 minutes and 30 seconds).
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The AS2's luxurious cabin. The perfect environment to drink 'business juice'.
Right now the AS2 is set for trial runs in 2019, certification in 2021 and for its first flights to commence in 2022. The design of the aircraft promises to be revolutionary, with its superstructure made from carbon fibre composite, its wings sculpted to reduce overall drag by 20 per cent (this is largely thanks to Aerion’s Supersonic Natural Laminar Flow Technology) and cabin offering stupid levels of comfort for its passengers.
The AS2 will be constructed primarily from carbon fibre composite materials.
Will it happen? Of all the projects currently in development, it seems like the Aerion AS2 is the one that will almost definitely happen. Aerion are already taking orders for the jet and, considering the latest global economic meltdown has now largely blown over for the corporate world, the money needed to buy and fly on these will be readily available. Here at T3.com though, we’ll probably just stick with the T3 dirigible.
It's pretty quick on windy days, although landing on the roof of T3 Towers can get a bit hairy.
The N+2 has been designed for mass commercial transport, with its cabin housing 80 passengers.
One of the biggest problems engineers have faced in bringing supersonic flight back and developing it further is the issue of sonic booms. Sonic booms are caused when violent disturbances of air pressure around a plane travelling faster than the speed of sound merge to form enormous shock waves. These shock waves create the thunderous sonic booms that became famous thanks to Concorde. The problem is that they are so loud that right now legislation is in place that forbids jets to fly over land, as the booms are deemed to loud to be exposed to the public.
The N+2 project, a collaborative effort between Lockheed Martin and NASA, aims to solve that problem, with its futuristic commercial jet promising to carry 80 passengers at a time from New York to Los Angeles in just 2 hours 30 minutes. For context, that journey takes over 5 hours today using standard subsonic commercial jets. Crucially though, thanks to the N+2’s unique tri-engine design, where one engine is mounted on top of the aircraft and the other two installed below, sonic booms will be reduced to a level which will make them acceptable for over-ground travel.
The tri-engine design, with one on top and two below, reduces the sonic boom effect significantly.
Will it happen? Our gut feeling here at T3.com is that the N+2 is the most likely never to see the light of day. Lockheed Martin and NASA in specifically have track records of pushing the envelope in terms of technological design and innovation, however often the technology remains just that. The N+2’s technological innovations will most likely be used, just not on the N+2 superjet.