NASA is mulling over a potential supersonic passenger aircraft capable of traversing the Atlantic within a mere 90 minutes.
August 26, 2023

NASA is mulling over a potential supersonic passenger aircraft capable of traversing the Atlantic within a mere 90 minutes.

Commercial Flights Across the Atlantic Could Reach Speeds of Over 2,400 km/h

Commercial flights across the Atlantic could travel at speeds in excess of 2,400 kilometers per hour as NASA explores the possibility of building a (supersonic) supersonic passenger plane.

NASA’s X-59 Research Jet: Exploring Faster-Than-Sound Travel with Reduced Sonic Boom

Namely, its X-59 research jet is designed to travel faster than sound while at the same time dampening the accompanying sonic boom. NASA is now investigating whether this technology could be applied to future commercial aircraft, enabling flights such as the London-New York route in just 90 minutes, writes SkyNews.

The Quest Mission and the Origin of the X-59 Jet

The American space agency came up with such a project through the launch of the Quest mission in 2016. It was then launched primarily to design an aircraft with technology that reduces the volume of the sonic boom, that is, what we hear on the ground when an aircraft breaks through the sound barrier.

The sonic booms are so powerful that flying aircraft capable of producing them is prohibited over populated areas. The project then resulted in the aforementioned X-59 jet, similar to the Concorde plane that can fly at a speed of 1507 km/h at an altitude of almost 17 thousand kilometers without creating unacceptable noise levels.

Testing the Technology and Future of Supersonic Travel

The agency hopes to be able to conduct test flights over American cities as early as next year to collect data on the local population’s reaction to the sound.

This week the agency’s Glenn Research Center revealed that it is investigating the case for supersonic travel, potentially allowing the jet to fly across the Atlantic Ocean at speeds between 2,400 and nearly 5,000 km/h.

Today’s large airplanes fly at an approximate speed of about 965 km/h, and the flight from the British capital to New York takes about eight hours on average. Now, however, companies including Boeing and Rolls-Royce have contracted with the agency to come up with a potential road map to make supersonic commercial travel a reality. Of course, this also includes design concepts for supersonic passenger aircraft.

A New Historical Supersonic Chapter

The agency’s announcement comes just weeks after the X-59 was moved from the construction site to the so-called flight line, that is, the space between the hangar and the runway at the Lockheed Martin factory in California. This company tested a fighter plane controlled by artificial intelligence.

The Future of Supersonic Travel and the Potential Test Flight

The company was awarded a US$236.3 million contract to build the jet, and has now begun a series of ground tests ahead of a potential test flight later this year.

Representatives of the Quest mission say that its team is “ready to write a new chapter in the history of supersonic flight.” The new plane would follow in the footsteps of Concorde, the world’s first supersonic plane. He currently holds the record for the fastest commercial flight between New York and London in just two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds in 1966.

However, these planes were grounded in 2003 as the operators who used them – British Airways and Air France blamed the drop in demand and increased maintenance costs.

The last such plane took off three years after Air France Concorde Flight 4590 crashed into a hotel shortly after taking off from Paris. On that occasion, 109 people died on the flight and four more on the ground.

It seems that humanity was still not ready for this kind of technology in commercial use back then. Now, together with the NASA agency, such supersonic passenger flights are being researched by United Airlines together with the startup Boom Supersonic, as well as Virgin Galactic, which presented a design for a supersonic passenger plane in 2020.