The rest of the world will seem much closer thanks to a new era in supersonic flight. Earlier this week, Aerion Supersonic announced plans for the AS3, the world’s first Mach 4+ (3,000 mph) commercial airliner. Speeds like this would put any two points on Earth within 3 hours of each other. To put that in perspective, you couldn’t finish Avengers: Endgame on a flight from LA to Tokyo. The company says the AS3 will be flying by the end of the decade.
Of course, the AS3 will not be the first supersonic passenger jet. That distinction belongs to the Concorde, which began commercial flights in 1976. The delta-winged airplane allowed travelers to fly at Mach 2.04 (1,354 mph), and zip from New York City to London in less than three hours. But due to development costs, the supersonic fleet was never financially profitable over its 27-year life. Since Air France and British Airways ceased Concorde operations in 2003, no airplanes have stepped up to fill the superfast void.
New Advancements: What Aerion’s AS3 Brings to the Table
Many of the technologies behind the AS3 are based on Aerion’s AS2—a supersonic business jet capable of Mach 1.4 (1,000 mph)—the company is already developing. Currently it’s set to fly in 2025. Built to use 100-percent biofuels, the AS2 will be carbon neutral from its first flight. One of the issues the Concorde faced was sonic booms, the sounds created by faster-than-sound shock waves. For this reason, the AS2 will feature “boomless” technology that uses atmospheric layers to reflect sound away from the ground. In other words, the plane will still boom, you just won’t hear it. It helps that Aerion is working with NASA’s Langley Research Center to study commercial high Mach aircraft and faster point-to-point travel.
NASA is doing its own work on the sonic boom issue. The Concorde was forced to fly ocean-crossing routes only due to sound complaints. This problem is something NASA is trying to solve with the X-59 program. The X-59, also known as the QueSST or Quiet SuperSonic Technology airplane, is set to take flight next year. The goal of the program is to turn sonic booms into gentle thumps. In this way, they can drastically reduce travel time around the U.S. and the world by making supersonic flight over land possible.
What’s Next for Supersonic Passenger Flight
Certainly Aerion is not the only company looking to climb into the supersonic skies. Boom Supersonic has announced the Overture, a Mach 2.2 plane they hope will start passenger service in 2029. Spike Aerospace is working on its Mach 1.6 Spike S-512 airplane. And while Virgin Galactic is best known for building spaceships, it’s also announced it’s working with Rolls-Royce on a Mach 3 airplane.
Aerion is promising more AS3 details by the end of the year. Until then, we can dream about a time when we can travel at four times the speed of sound and everywhere in the world is only three hours away.
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