Wednesday, September 22, 2021

At 12 Times Faster Than Sound, World’s Fastest Passenger Plane Begins Model-Testing

A US-based start-up is designing a hypersonic space plane that could enable people to travel anywhere around the world in just one hour.

Venus Aerospace, a hypersonic space plane start-up, will begin testing three scale models this summer, Bloomberg reported.

Travel on a space plane may seem like a regular airplane journey till the plane reaches cruising altitude. Once at that altitude, the pilot then enables the rocket boosters and the aircraft zooms to the edge of the space at a lightning speed of more than 9,000 mph or about 12 times the speed of sound.

This is the speed that the plane maintains for the next 15 minutes. Soaring through the atmosphere again, the plane slows down, cruises back to the earth, and lands at its destination airport.

In all probability, the hypersonic space plane to be developed by Venus Aerospace will complete these functions in one hour.

Based in the US, Venus Aerospace was founded by the Duggleby couple, Sarah and Andrew Duggleby in 2020. Sarah worked as a code-writing launch engineer at the Virgin Orbit, while Andrew handled the launch, payload, and propulsion operations at the same organization.

In June 2020, the couple who then lived in Japan were forced to miss Sarah’s grandmother’s 95th birthday party. The flights from Japan to Los Angeles take 11-13 hours on average. Leaving their jobs at Virgin Orbit, they decided to work on the hypersonic plane, hoping to cut the travel time from Tokyo to Los Angeles or anywhere in the world to an hour.

The company boasts a small team of 15 members, most of whom have worked at leading space organizations around the world. Within a short period of time, Venus Aerospace has secured investments from some big venture capital firms like the Prime Mover and Drapers Association. They have also received a research grant from the US Airforce and are following up for additional funding from the US Department of Defence.

Hypersonic Technology

The aerospace company assures that the plane will be making use of a much-advanced technology. As an improvement upon the earlier supersonic planes, their new version will use a more efficient engine.

This is expected to handle the extra weight of the wings, landing gear, and jet engines much more effectively.

Speaking about the plane and its designs which is currently being worked upon, a former NASA astronaut Jack ‘2Fish’ Fischer said the initial blast of acceleration “throws you back in your seat” but soon disappears because “you get going so fast that you don’t even feel it anymore.” Fischer has reviewed the plans of the Venus Aerospace’s supersonic plane.

Still, there is a long way to go for the plane to become a reality. The shape of the aircraft is still being developed. The company expects to begin testing the three scale models in the summer of 2021.

Supersonic Planes Are Passé? 

Aerion Supersonic had been working on business jets, which were capable of flying at twice the speed of commercial jets until the Nevada-based company closed its operations in May 2021 due to financial difficulties.

The Aerion Supersonic intended its AS2 jet to take off in 2024 and wanted to venture into commercial services by 2026.

It had entered into partnerships with big companies such as Boeing, General Electric, and NetJets owned by Berkshire Hathaway. A $375 million manufacturing facility located at Orlando Melbourne International Airport was also in the pipeline.

Giving its supersonic planes an edge over the earlier supersonic Concorde jets, the Aerion Supersonic patented “boomless cruise” technology, which was expected to make it possible for the AS2 to fly without creating a sonic boom, as was the case with the Concorde jets.

The Turbojet-powered Concorde started its commercial journey in 1976, after its first flight in 1969. With a capacity of 92-128 passengers, the Concorde supersonic passenger planes were used by Air France and British Airways. Along with the Russian-built Tupolev TU-144, the Concorde was the only supersonic transporter, which was used for commercial purposes.

In July 2000, an Air France Concorde plane crashed in Paris, a few minutes after take-off. This eventually led to a decreased footfall on the Concorde flights, leading both Air France and British Airways to discontinue the flights.

In 2016, the idea of a new supersonic jet Concorde II was floated by Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson. On completion, the jet is expected to cut the travel time from London to New York to three and a half hours.

Regardless of the unsuccessful ventures of the Aerion and Concorde, experts in the domain believe that people will not mind paying more to travel at the speed of sound. 

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