Flying 1,300 mph on airplanes would be great. But future aviation has other plans.

In 2044, fusion power plants could power our cities, our sleek cars could all run on electricity, and our doctors could regularly use genetic engineering to cure blindness.

But it is likely that our aircraft will still fly at the same speed they did half a century ago: 550 to 600 mph.

Supersonic flight-i.e. speeds that exceed the speed of sound (768 mph) and can dramatically reduce flight times-died in 2003 for civilians with the withdrawal of the narrowly shaped Concorde aircraft, which crossed between the United States and Europe at 1,300 mph for 27 years.

“It failed,” Bob van der Linden, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum’s Aeronautics Department Chairman, said in an interview. “it was a marvel of technology, but it was too costly to operate.”

Although some ambitious supersonic startups such as Boom Technology and Aerion Supersonic could successfully resurrect smaller jets in the coming decades, it is unlikely that commercial flying for the masses will change a great deal in the next quarter of a century and beyond. The traditional aviation paradigm works today, it’s profitable and safe.

“An airliner’s top speed hasn’t changed since the 1960s,” van der Linden said – and, he adds, he doesn’t see any reason.

“Air travel may not look very different from how it looks today in 20 to 25 years,” Dan Bubb, a former pilot and now an aviation historian at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, agreed on email.

“I don’t think we expect to see any disruptive technologies,” said Fotis Kopsaftopoulos, an assistant professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in an interview.

It is likely that these future planes will look the same as they do now.

“There’s not too much room to shape – we need wings and a round fuselage,” said Ryo Amano, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, in an interview.

But surely one thing will change.

“You’ll see more efficient airlines,” van der Linden said. “any breakthrough is for the sake of efficiency.”

This means that less fuel is burned and higher airline profits are generated. It’s already going on. Some new aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 and the colossal Airbus 380, are built with lighter “composite materials” than heavier old – school metals, which means that they burn less fuel.

“They’re light and very strong,” Kopsaftopoulos said.

New, more efficient engines burn less fuel as well.

“You really don’t see many of the changes, but there’s a huge amount of improvement inside the engine system,” Amano said.

Supersonic dreams

Experts in aviation are in broad agreement: Flying at supersonic speeds would reduce flight times (imagine a 2.5-hour journey from New York to Los Angeles or London to New York in less than 3.5 hours), and as the Concorde proved, there are blazing engines and aerodynamic design technologies. But there are a lot of tremendous obstacles.

Traditional airlines may be slower, but they’re making money. Flying faster, by contrast, burns much more fuel. This means more expensive flights.

“A conventional airliner is better than an SST [supersonic aircraft],” van der Linden said. “it’s that simple.”

Moreover, on the 1,300 mph Concorde planes, there was little demand to fly. A seat was too costly. “The cost of a seat probably cost five times as much as [a seat on] a 747,” Amano noted.

“Let’s face it, the vast majority of citizens are not millionaires,” van der Linden added. “for high – priced things, there’s not enough traffic.”

But if a supersonic plane ever took to the sky, it would probably be a smaller plane for richer demographics.

“It would be great to see the Concorde return, but if the aircraft returns, it’s going to be a much slimmer, fuel – efficient version,” Babb said.

A spokesman for the supersonic startup Boom Technology said it was designing aircraft that “can operate profitably while charging the same rates as today’s business class” on ocean routes. A business-class round trip ticket between JFK and London generally costs $3,000 to $8,000 from a perspective.

Like the automotive industry, it’s daunting to break into the aviation world for any startup, like Boom. They don’t just need billions of dollars, they have to show the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that their supersonic planes are deeply safe.

“I wish them good luck,” van der Linden said.

Supersonics also have to deal with environmental problems beyond financial hurdles. A recent report by the International Council on Clean Transport-an organization that provides environmental regulators with technical and scientific analysis-estimated that by 2035, a worldwide fleet of 2,000 supersonic aircraft would emit huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

“The environmental impact of building many planes would be serious,” Dan Rutherford, ICCT’s marine and aviation program director, said.

Such supersonic fuel-guzzling creates uncertainty for airlines that could take them into account, as the United Nations aviation organization will almost certainly tighten emission rules to meet the climate and environmental objectives of larger society. “Everyone asks what environmental regulations they will have to comply with,” Rutherford noted.

Supersonic booms

In 1970, and for good reason, Congress outlawed flying supersonic airlines over land. Sonic booms are thunder – like noises created when air is moved by planes and powerful shockwaves are created, some of which slam into the ground. It’s “like a boat wake up in the water,” NASA explains.

The booms are shaking buildings, awakening people and can feel like a sharp earthquake. “If you don’t expect them, they can be amazing,” NASA aviation engineer David Richwine said last year to Mashable.

This limits supersonic aircraft to ocean routes and further reduces their ability to be mainstream airlines.

For this reason, the startup Aerion Supersonic plans to fly over land just below the sound speed (known as Mach 0.95) “without a sonic boom,” a spokesperson for the company said. But Aerion still has supersonic ambitions and plans to develop planes flying at approximately 920 mph (or 1.2 Mach), in which the booms dissipate before the ground pummels.

Although overland travel is still illegal for Boom, Aerion and others, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can open the door for new supersonic aircraft to fly over land once again. This will not happen soon (the new supersonic planes do not even exist), but the FAA considers noise certification rules and other rules for supersonic planes -once the government has established them

“We haven’t published any rules yet – it’s still being worked out,” said FAA spokesman Henry Price on the phone.

“We’re heading in the fact sheet,” Price added, citing a website that summarizes the proposed future rules for supersonic planes.

NASA began working on a prototypical supersonic plane in 2018, dubbed the X-Plane, probably to the delight of supersonic startups. The $247.5 million project is not scheduled to start until 2021, but the 94-foot test craft will rise over American neighborhoods and urban areas when it does. It’s an experiment: Are the booms of the innovative design mild enough to support citizens?

It is surely possible that NASA will succeed. A large group of aviation experts are working on the project, and they have intriguing futuristic ideas, such as plane outdoors, which subtly morph in the air to tame sonic blasts. If everything goes well, the experimental plane of NASA turns sonic booms into silent thumps.

“NASA’s work could help [ sonic booms ],” van der Linden said. “and a smaller plane could help.”

“But you can’t remove it,” he said.

Even if NASA is (often) successful, airlines seeking to break the sound barrier will have to build planes similar to the low – boom design, airlines will have to order them, and the aircraft must meet rigid FAA standards.

“Will the airlines be worth pursuing?” Kopsaftopoulos asked. “I don’t know what will happen.”

Beyond Speed 

While most passengers will still slog through the atmosphere at 575 mph in a quarter-century, that doesn’t mean that air travel won’t make any other futuristic leaps.

In the next decade, flying, battery-powered taxis – small aircraft designed to shorten urban jumps – could become a reality.

“Brooklyn’s Central Park or Jersey City using an air taxi is very exciting,” Kopsaftopoulos said.

Kopsaftopoulos noted that there is also considerable interest in fully – electric commercial aircraft in the aviation industry.

“It’s ideal – we’ll save a lot of fuel,” added Amano, who said maybe in a decade or so the technology could be tested on smaller commercial aircraft. In addition, a number of startups are moving forward with electric planes, modifying existing planes and planning for tests.

But at the end of the day, whether an aircraft is running on a massive battery in its belly or on expensive fuels, these planes are likely to fly at the speed they have been flying since the mid-20th century.

Traveling at supersonic speeds is “stunning,” said van der Linden, who experienced the Concorde flying at 1,300 mph. “you fly faster than the Earth spins,” he said, adding it felt like traveling on a normal airliner.

But the race wins money. Our trustworthy, long-lived old-school airlines are only replaced by lighter, more efficient aircraft with sleeker interiors after decades of service, but never faster.

“Planes don’t break,” van der Linden said. “they vanish, but they don’t die.”

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