The fastest commercial jet today travels at approximately 6,000 miles per hour (1,100,680 kilometers per hour), but startup Hermeus is doing something that could shatter that data. They are hypersonic aircraft that will fly its passengers at a speed of at least 3.800 kilometers per hour (3.800 mph): Mach 5, five times the speed of sound.
If successful, such an innovation could literally change the world, but would very fast flying be affordable?
Hypersonic aircraft: more time for everyone
The first advantage of hypersonic commercial aircraft is that they save time. Today, we spend seven hours flying from New York to London: on a hypersonic commercial jet, the trip is only 90 minutes.
For tourists, this could mean more vacation days: for business travelers, less time is wasted on the move. Commercial hypersonic flying can really be a gamer and reshape our worldview.
More or less like when cars replaced horses.
The challenge? Everything is cheap
To be revolutionary, however, this technology does not need to be technically proven (planes that carry passengers in complete safety even beyond Mach 5 already exist). It must be done economically: costs are guaranteed to be low enough to allow travelers to pay for tickets of these hypersonic planes.
Not easy. For example, the Concorde (which also flew “just” below Mach 2) never achieved this. An average transatlantic flight now costs the equivalent of 12.000 euros: too high a cost that contributed to the failure of the whole project.
How to do it? It will be necessary to keep the aircraft as light as possible by reducing the amount of fuel required. And here arose the biggest problem.
The powerful rocket engines that the power of a regular hypersonic aircraft requires a tank of liquid oxygen, which can add a lot of weight to the aircraft.
ako ramjets (which draws oxygen from the atmosphere rather than a reservoir) has difficulty working at low speeds.
Hermeus believes the key to reducing hypersonic aircraft costs is to combine a ramjet with a traditional jet engine. A solution known as the “Tubine Combined Cycle Propulsion System” (TBCC).
In summary: the turbojet engine can push the aircraft when flying from a runway. Once in the air, the ramjet will work until it’s time to land: at that point, turbojet again.
Good idea: the secret, of course, is to best reconcile the two technologies that, taken in isolation, we’ve been using for 50 years. Planes equipped with the TBCC system have already flown (e.g. the SR-71, American spy plane), but no one has thought of this propulsion system for a commercial passenger plane. Until now.
Some investors think Hermeus can do that: Between July 2021 and March 2022, the U.S. Air Force invested nearly $ 200 million in the company. At first glance, this is a very ambitious, almost forbidden expensive project, but the company’s many talents and a respectable track record make the company possible.
The first flying prototype (code name: Quarterhorse) is expected for 2023: a full-scale model is next, the Cheval noir. Last stop? The latest aircraft, Halcyon: the first 20-seat hypersonic commercial aircraft.
Why 20 spaces? According to the company, this is the ideal size to be able to maintain prices at this stage. Obviously for a target who typically travels in business class. maybe. We can’t be sure until we see the working planes.
Overcoming the economic challenge and making hypersonic aircraft costs affordable will pave the way for many operators. And in any case, regardless of the technology, there are alternatives: don’t worry.
The beginning Space transportation makes an airplane that promises to take people around the world in an hour. A kind of rocket-plane hybrid (in my opinion) maybe too expensive.
Din SpaceX, Elon Musk’s aerospace company, he plans to use his massive Starship rocket (under development) for hypersonic travel around the world. Here the costs will be lower: with a capacity of almost 1000 passengers, flying to such a giant could cost more than 1000 euros.