Since the Concorde last flew in 2003, nonmilitary travelers haven’t had the chance to fly at supersonic speeds. Civilian jets are constrained by rules that ban sonic booms over most of the world’s land areas, making it hard to justify the expense of supersonic engines, which can only perform when flying above the oceans. But now, in the hopes that supersonic passenger flight can make a comeback, NASA has joined forces with aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin to pioneer new “quiet supersonic” technology. The partners aim to build a flight-test “X-plane” jet that will be flying by 2020. They hope the airplane can be designed to produce a supersonic “heartbeat” (a soft thump rather than a disruptive boom) that will be acceptable to regulators.
Meanwhile, a handful of industry players are moving forward with their own designs. Airbus is working with Aerion to build a 12-seat Mach 1.5 private jet that would focus on transoceanic routes. Boom, a startup led by a team of pilots and engineers, has partnered with the Virgin Group’s Spaceship Company to design a 40-seat Mach 2.2 passenger jet for the New York-to-London route. Boston’s Spike Aerospace (though they lack the design patents and funding that Aerion has and the expertise of Airbus or Virgin) is collaborating with Aernnova, an aerospace engineering and design firm headquartered in Spain, to develop their ideas for an 18-seat jet with quiet-boom capabilities that flies up to Mach 1.8. (nasa.gov; aerionsupersonic.com; spikeaerospace.com; boom.aero.com)