There have been two Aviation Week stories by Guy Norris this week which might encourage even the most hard bitten pessimists about the near future of commercial supersonic flight into thinking a sliver of light had been shone into the decades of darkness that have characterised the topic.
The first, on moves to build an F-22 sized scaled model of hypersonic replacement for the long grounded SR71 Blackbird reports on some progress on the fiercely difficult issues of a combined cycle engine to deal with the totally different propulsion needs of an aircraft flying below and above the speed of sound.
It quotes a flight time in the early 2020s.
And, to be clear, it is a hypersonic rather than supersonic project. Something that is at least two orders of magnitude harder than supersonic flight, since it involves velocities three or more times faster than Concorde achieved, and skin temperatures even at more than 20 kilometres above the ground that would mimic those experienced for much shorter intervals by manned spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere.
The SR71 Blackbird flew at mach 3. The SR72 aims for mach 6. At no time, after it emerged from secrecy, was the design and technology of the SR71 considered remotely applicable to a future viable commercial airliner.
The second Aviation Week story is comparatively speaking, about a less spectacularly ambitious objective than mixed cycle mach 6 hypersonic flight. It would only do about mach 1.4 compared to a sustained cruise speed of close to mach 2 in Concorde, and from earlier accounts, be contemplated for an aircraft more the size of a corporate jet than a 100 passenger design that once regularly flew across the North Atlantic in about three and half hours. This project would be assisted by NASA and could be going through its paces over a military housing estate in California (as the contract reportedly requires) also as soon as the early 2020s.
Both these stories require free registration with Aviation Week to be read in full.
They are also the work of another journalist, who has astonishingly good access and contacts in US aerospace, and who reports for owners who are making serious investments in quality reporting. Plane Talking is doing its bit to ensure that its readership taps into that resource, which is of a quality and level of specialisation unlikely to be found in this part of the world in a foreseeable future.