Boeing “Unveils” Hypersonic Transport Plane

A look at if, when, what and how this might all happen.

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For a company like Boeing that has a track record of getting stuff done, in not precisely when it hopes to then at least eventually, the announcement this week of a hypersonic transport plane was, well, unusually forward looking.

Boeing's passenger-carrying hypersonic vehicle concept. Courtesy of Boeing.

The "concept" unveiling---we'll have to remember that line---came at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in Atlanta, and Boeing admitted up front that this was 1) one of several hypersonic concepts it's working on and 2) a concept that depends on Boeing's being able to predict the state of the world and the industry even decades in the future. So you take it easy for now. Go ahead and minimize your phone apps. Expedia won't be discounting tickets on this baby just yet.

But when it does, here's what Boeing say passengers will get. A ride in a Mach 5 fire-breathing dragon that will take them from LA to Beijing in about 2 hours, compared to around 12 hours currently in a wide body jet. Or if you're feeling like a Continental breakfast, instead of it taking about seven hours to go from the Statue of Liberty to the Eiffel Tower, the future Boeing, which we presume will be called the 737-Hyper, will get you there in 60 New York minutes. (Or Paris minutes. They're the same.) As a reference, LAX to SFO could be cut down to six minutes. Theoretically. Because that's what this, though it is also a lot of fun to think about.

Boeing isn't saying how the new plane will be powered, so we're guessing ScramJet. As far as the structure, carbon nanotubes, and for the likelihood part, we're saying it'll be a fun project to watch, or not.

Bear in mind that despite our having fun with the idea, Boeing is already working in earnest on just such projects, and hyperspeed aircraft exist. The term "hyperspeed," by the way, refers to speeds of Mach 5 or greater, though the fastest piloted plane so far is the North American X-15 rocket plane, which pegged the speedometer at Mach 4.5. The fastest manned, air-breathing plane is the Lockheed SR-71, at Mach 2.8. An unmanned, scramjet (it's really a thing) powered plane has flown at nearly Mach 10.

Boeing admits the new jet concept, which looks as cool as it would be fast, won't be in commercial service for 20 or 30 years still, but we promise to keep you updated in the interim.


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