The last Concorde supersonic flight landed in 2003.
Since then, travelers – regardless of their wealth – have been confined to subsonic aircraft for nearly two decades. But could the plans for a high-speed civil aircraft for the 21st century materialize now?
Miami to London in less than five hours: That’s what American Airlines promises when it takes delivery of a new generation of supersonic jets.
The giant Dallas-based airline has announced an “agreement to purchase up to 20 Overture aircraft with an option for an additional 40.”
Competitor United has already made a down payment for 15 of the new aircraft. They are said to be manufactured by Denver-based Boom Supersonic.
But will it ever happen? These are the most important questions and answers.
What went wrong at Concorde?
The Anglo-French jet flew its first test flight in 1969 and carried fare-paying passengers for Air France and British Airways from 1976 to 2003.
The aircraft flew up to 100 passengers at a time at Mach 2.04 – the equivalent of 1,350 mph/2,173 km/h at its 60,000 ft cruising altitude. Travelers from London and Paris to New York and Washington DC arrived earlier than they left, local time.
But the Concorde was equipped with noisy and thirsty military engines. The 1960s technology used for the Anglo-French project was extremely sophisticated, with the aluminum airframe lengthening by about 15 inches due to the heat generated by friction during supersonic flight.
The plane was grounded by a combination of high oil prices, low demand and safety concerns after the Paris crash in 2000, which killed 113 people.
What’s the latest plan?
Denver-based company Boom Supersonic is developing a new passenger airliner called the Overture.
The proposed “SST” – supersonic transport – will have a range of 7,870 km, about a third longer than Concorde, and fly at Mach 1.7.
At 60,000 feet, that equates to a ground speed of about 1,000 mph—slower than the Concorde, but about twice as fast as current short-haul aircraft. They typically fly at Mach 0.85.
“Sustainable supersonic travel enables three-day business trips to become one-day hops, long-distance relationships thrive and humanitarian missions save more lives,” the company says.
When will it be done?
“Overture is scheduled to launch in 2025, begin test flights in 2026 and be carrying passengers by 2029,” says Boom Supersonic.
However, in 2017 the company announced that it would fly scheduled services until 2023.
How many passengers will be on board?
This is one of several strange insecurities. American Airlines’ order announcement stated, “Overture is designed to carry between 65 and 80 passengers.”
Boom originally said it would take 55 travelers, but the company now says it will take up to 88 – which is nearing Concorde’s capacity.
How much space will they have?
“Sufficient,” says Boom.
The company says: “Imagine a large personal window through which you can enjoy the breathtaking view of Earth from 60,000 feet. You’ll enjoy plenty of space to work or relax, a large entertainment screen and dedicated under-seat storage.”
The plane bears more than a passing resemblance to the Concorde, which offered very little personal space.
The plane will have “gull wings” to increase speed and stability. Additionally, a redesigned fuselage, larger in the front and smaller in the rear, should help reduce drag.
Where will Overture fly?
According to Boom, there are 600 possible city pairs. Possible routes will include long stretches across oceans; Overture has to fly subsonic over land because of the “sonic boom” that breaks the sound barrier.
It will be much better suited to transatlantic routes than transpacific ones because of its limited range – it might not reach Sydney non-stop, and the only US-Japan option just within reach is Seattle-Tokyo.
Travel from US East Coast cities such as Boston, New York and Miami to London, Paris, Amsterdam and other European hubs is likely to be the key market. Miami to key South American destinations, as well as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle to Hawaii could also be feasible.
How much time will it save?
It all depends. At the launch of Overture at the Farnborough Air Show last month, the company claimed it would fly from London to New York in 3.5 hours, just like Concorde. That honestly looks impossible given the top speed. Even four hours looks ambitious.
The problem for Overture, however, is that a route must be at the limit of range for the speed advantage to be apparent. Saving two hours on the usual five-hour flight from California to Honolulu may not be enough differentiation for supersonic travel.
On routes like London to Chicago or Toronto, the most direct routes cover more than 1,000 miles / 1,609 km of land, meaning the speed advantage is greatly reduced.
Could it fly US-Australia?
When Boom first announced its plans, the design speed was Mach 2.2, making it well over twice as fast as conventional aircraft, with the 7,500 miles / 12,070 km Los Angeles-Sydney route expected to take less than seven hours , even with a fuel stop: “Leave LA at 7am, enjoy an operetta in Sydney and be back before midnight,” the company promised.
A direct flight would not be possible with the proposed range of 7,870 km.
What happens when the plane breaks the sound barrier?
Nothing, from the perspective of passengers and crew. On the surface it sounds like a thunderclap.
How much more does a flight cost than conventional planes?
No details on tariffs have been released; The airlines decide on the prices. Boom says, “We are designing Overture so airlines can offer fares that are comparable to today’s business class.”
Will it be safe?
American Airlines says, “Under the terms of the agreement, prior to delivering Overtures, Boom must meet industry standard operational, performance, safety and other standard American Airlines requirements.”
The catastrophe in Paris in 2000 with an Air France Concorde that had just taken off for New York had nothing to do with supersonic flights.
Which airlines will fly it?
American Airlines and United Airlines have announced they will buy the jet and have paid deposits.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have not expressed interest in acquiring the jet. If they did, it would be best suited to US and Caribbean routes.
Before the Concorde took to the skies, airlines like Air India, Lufthansa and Qantas were in the race to order the supersonic Anglo-French plane. But their interest never translated into actual sales.
What about the ecological footprint?
The makers say Overture is “optimized for speed, safety and sustainability” — despite the carbon footprint per passenger being far heavier than that of economy travelers on conventional planes.
“Overture is the first supersonic aircraft designed from day one with a focus on sustainability,” says Boom. “We are optimizing the aircraft so that it can take 100 percent sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and enable CO2-neutral operations.”
Hypersonic Flight: Fact or Science Fiction?
Every few years, it seems, British travelers are told that they will soon be able to travel to Australia in two hours (the fastest journey currently takes 17 hours).
The key, we are assured, is hypersonic travel. The idea is: to propel a passenger ship above Earth’s atmosphere, where it flies at maybe 5,000 miles per hour, before it comes to a landing. But there is a clear lack of cash and political will for such a project.
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/travel-talk/what-went-wrong-with-concorde-and-is-concorde-20-really-going-to-happen-41920136.html What went wrong with Concorde and will “Concorde 2.0” really happen?