Researchers at NASA are trying to find a way to travel faster than the speed of sound without the thunderous noise of the sonic boom disturbing ground-dwelling folk.
The noise of passing Mach 2 meant that supersonic travel was retired along with the Concorde in 2003.
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Bringing it back would dramatically cut the travel time between destinations and allow passengers to get from London to New York in a little over three hours.
The space agency has successfully tested new supersonic technology in a wind tunnel and believes it could be deployed in commercial air travel. The new technology minimises the sonic boom and would make the planes almost inaudible to those of us under the flight path.
At the moment, it’s only been tested in a small scale and NASA will start taking bids in August from manufacturers who will build the technology into a full-sized demonstration plane.
The full-sized plane would be capable of flying at 55,000 feet – above the standard cruising altitude of 30,000 feet. Crucially, it would produce sound levels that max out at 65 decibels. For comparison, Concorde would thunder over at 90 decibels.
“Now you’re getting down to that level where, as far as approval from the general public, it would probably be something that’s acceptable,” said Peter Iosifidis, design program manager at Lockheed Martin, which built NASA’s small-scale model.
At 65 decibels, the new plane wouldn’t sound much louder than a large car driving up the motorway. And Iosifidis is confident that Lockheed’s design could be replicated at scale.
The 94-foot long, $390 million (£299 million) demo plane would have room for one pilot and every effort will be made to limit the environmental impacts.
“Manufacturers will not take the lead in developing an aircraft that they can’t fly,” Iosifidis told Bloomberg .
“That’s where NASA said we’ve got to go change the rule, and this is the path to making that happen.”
If everything goes to plan, the full-sized demo plane could be ready for testing by the beginning of 2022.