London to New York in two hours? Sydney to Europe in five hours? That could be the schedule for business travellers from the late 2030s if Boeing’s plans for ‘hypersonic’ commercial travel take wing.
Bigger than a conventional private jet but smaller than a Boeing 737, the sleek beyond-supersonic jetliner portrayed in Boeing’s concept design would redline around Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound) at 6,500kph, making it nearly three times faster than the legendary Concorde.
(By way of comparison, the Airbus A380 cruises at a more sedate 900kph.)
“There is an inherent value in speed,” says Kevin Bowcutt, Senior Technical Fellow of hypersonics in Boeing Research & Technology.
"When you look at the problem of getting from Point A to Point B anywhere in the world, the question is how fast do you want to go and how fast is fast enough.”
“Supersonic isn’t really fast enough to go overseas and back in one day. For the business traveler or the military, where time is really important, that’s an interesting point.”
"Mach 5 is where you can do that. You can get across the Atlantic in about 2 hours. and across the Pacific in about 3 hours.”
Clad in titanium and powered by still-to-be-developed engine technology, the un-named jet would scythe through earth’s upper atmosphere at 95,000 feet above sea level, far above the ceiling of regular jets.
"From that altitude you can see the curvature of the earth and the blackness of space,” Bowcutt says, although that view might be enjoyed through virtual windows showing a videocamera feed from outside the jet rather than actual windows.
Renewed interest in super-fast travel comes as airlines push the envelope of ultra-long flights, with Singapore Airlines restarting non-stop 19 hour flights to New York in October 2018 while Qantas' ambitious Project Sunrise proposes non-stop 20 hour treks from Sydney and Melbourne to New York and London from 2022.
US startup Boom has attracted the backing of Sir Richard Branson for its all-business class XB-1, with the Brit billionaire taking an option to buy the first 10 of these ‘next-gen Concordes’ due for launch in 2023.
That’s the same year targetted by the Airbus-backed Aerion AS2, a supersonic private business jet expected to carry a dozen cashed-up VIPs at March 1.5.
Boeing previously took a shot at the supersonic market in the late 1960s with the Boeing 2707 SST which counted Qantas among its customers, with the airline mapping out several ‘supersonic flight corridors’ across Australia to link the east coast capitals to Singapore, where travellers would join a supersonic BA flight to London via Bahrain.