Supersonic Aircraft


Supersonic Commercial Jets will be in the air soon

Skies are now full of flying machines carrying people to distances longer than ever before. While the travel has become relatively safer and comfortable the time required to cover long distances has not changed more or less. The obvious need therefore is to make the air travel faster while the need to make it safer remains the topmost priority.

Supersonic commercial jets ‘Concorde’ solved the riddle of Supersonic Transportation (SST) for some time offering faster travels. Concorde were introduced in January 1976 with a carrying capacity of 120 passengers on board. These aircrafts were one of the two types the other was Russian Tupolev Tu-144. High fuel consumption resulting in high cost of operation and design issues affecting environment were major impediments. Finally, crash of a Concord in July 2000 led British Airways and Air France to retire the aging fleet ending Supersonic Travel across Atlantic. Concorde’s last flight was on Nov 23, 2003. Boeing’s B2707 Mach 2+ aircraft was abandoned in 1971 foreseeing market and operational cost.

3Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde is a retired turbojet-powered supersonic passenger airliner or supersonic transport. In total 20 Concordes were built between 1966 and 1979. The first 2 Concordes were prototype models, one built in France and the other in England.


Tupolev Tu-144. The first flight of the TU-144 was on 31 December of 1968. The aircraft crashed in Paris Airshow resulting in final abandonment of its further development.

The quest for faster travel however, never ended and the global aerospace technologists are back with great ideas. A number of global aerospace industry giants are working hard to develop aircrafts capable of flying faster than the speed of sound called ‘supersonic’. Typical speeds for supersonic aircraft are greater than 750 mph but less than 1500 mph. Mach number a ration between the speed of the aircraft and speed of sound lies between 1 and 3. The first powered aircraft to explore this regime was the Bell X-1A, in 1947. It and subsequent experimental aircraft proved that humans could fly supersonically. The aerodynamics of these early aircraft is used on modern supersonic fighter aircraft. Because of the high drag associated with supersonic flight, fighter aircraft use high thrust gas turbine propulsion systems. On the slide we show an F-14 which is powered by two afterburning turbofan engines. The wings of supersonic fighters are swept in planform to reduce drag. The F-14 is unique because the amount of sweep can be varied by the pilot; low sweep for good low speed performance, high sweep for supersonic flight. For Mach numbers less than 2.5, the frictional heating of the airframe by the air is low enough that lightweight aluminum is used for the structure.

Fast air travel

Supersonic research by NASA resulted in this concept model proposed by Lockheed Martin. The engines are mounted on top of the fuselage to reduce the noise towards ground. Inverted-V at the tail reduces the sonic boom. Model is still untested. Source NASA/Lockheed Martin Corporation.


A proposed supersonic passenger aircraft by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The concepts are at infancy stage awaited detailed testing and completeness. Source JAXA.


Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is researching on developing Supersonic aircrafts which are more safe, quiet, operationally feasible and environmentally conducive. Source JAXA.


The ZEHST (Zero Emission High Supersonic Transport), on the other hand, won’t be ready until at least 2050, though it aims to run demonstration flights by 2020. It will avoid climate-harming emissions by using electric power and biofuel made from seaweed. The ZEHST will fly 20 miles above the Earth, which EADS says is so high, the sonic boom will be inaudible from the ground. Traveling at more than Mach 4, it could cross the Atlantic in an hour and travel from Tokyo to Los Angeles in under two and a half hours.

EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company) now Airbus and ONERA (French national aerospace research laboratory) are collectively studying ZEHST. This is influenced by the concept of suborbital space plane.  The study includes possibilities of using biofuels and electric power for aviation.

Travel times reduction to facilitate passengers is the prime driving factor motivating modern air transport systems. Faster future aircrafts flying long-haul should also aim at meeting environmental requirements. These goals as spelt out in European Commission’s ‘Flightpath 2050’. The report sets the targets of reducing aircraft CO2 emissions by 75%, along with reductions of NOx by 90% and noise levels by 65%, compared to the levels of year 2000.


NASA has awarded a $2.28 million study contract to a team of industry and education partners led by The Boeing Company to define the market and environmental conditions anticipated in the 2030 to 2035 timeframe in a bid to identify performance goals for a supersonic commercial aircraft that would satisfy those conditions.


Boston-based Spike Aerospace is looking to launch its S-512 as world’s first supersonic business jet, with a cruising speed of Mach 1.6, and a maximum speed of Mach 1.8.


The Spike Aerospace S-512 promises to cut that time in half, and it won’t cost more than a measly $80 million. The Boston-based Spike crew is made up of former Airbus, Bombardier, and Gulfstream engineers, along with a handful of entrepreneurs and investors that have set out to create the world’s first supersonic private jet.


Aerion Corporation an advanced aeronautical engineering organization headquartered in Reno, Nevada is aiming at a breakthrough in supersonic transportation. It has successfully merged decades of airborne and ground-based aerodynamics research for a single mission – supersonic flight bereft of compromise.


Aerion Corporation exhibited at the annual National Business Aviation Association Convention & Exhibition held this year in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 22-24 The company highlighted preliminary results from its phase-two flight tests with NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. The goal was to measure the real-world robustness of supersonic natural laminar flow, a vital element in the company’s SBJ design, especially as applied to surface quality and manufacturing tolerances.


Claimed by the Sonic Star Manufacturers “development of SonicStar makes what was previously impossible a reality. Incorporating a next generation design to effectively overcome environmental and economic challenges, SonicStar combines supersonic high speed with low boom technology to revolutionise aviation and drive global economic change.”

It can therefore be safely concluded that supersonic flight is not away and soon people will be flying in these engineering marvels.

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