A team of Chinese researchers have unveiled the design of a hypersonic airplane capable of flying from Beijing to New York in two hours.
The South China Morning Post reports that a team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing have designed and tested a scaled-down model of what they call the “I-plane” due to the shape its shadow casts on the ground.
The team tested the I-plane in a wind tunnel where it was able to handle speeds of 8,600 km/h. They say the plane will be able to travel at a top speed of 6,000 km/h, which is about five times the speed of sound (1,235 km/h).
The I-plane has a unique design with two layers of wings in an X-like formation. According to the researchers, this wing layout will allow the plane to handle heavier payloads than other hypersonic aircrafts.
With current passenger plane technology, the journey from Beijing to New York is a hellish 14 hours.
For contrast, you’ll only be halfway through Avatar and your second mini bottle of red before the I-plane begins its descent into New York.
The I-plane has got the attention of the US since it could also be used by the military.
The competition to produce hypersonic aircrafts is heating up with major aircraft makers reportedly working on them. Lockheed is testing a mysterious military aircraft called the SR-72 (potential successor to the SR-71 Blackbird) and a passenger plane called the X-plane.
Boeing is also developing a plane based on its old supersonic military aircraft, the XB-70 Valkyrie.
If the I-plane is to be used as a passenger plane, it won’t be the first time the public has access to super-fast plane travel.
Over 40 years ago, the Concorde began flying passengers between Washington and London at twice the speed of sound.
So why has passenger plane technology gone backwards?
The Concorde failed for several reasons. First, there was the cost. Travelling at high speeds meant more fuel was required, driving the price of tickets up.
Noise was also an issue – breaking the sound barrier is damn loud and the sound was considered a safety concern and an annoyance. Regulators stepped in and decided to limit the routes the Concorde could travel. Imagine having a barbie in the backyard and having this fly over your place:
On top of costs and noise, there was a Concorde crash in Paris that killed 113 people in July 2000. Three years later, the small global fleet of Concordes was retired.
The renewed interest in super and hypersonic planes may result in the return of super-fast travel to aviation. Until then we’ll have just have to continue suffering on long-haul fights trapped for hours between the inevitable Crying Baby and Coughing Man. Lord help us.