Flight Times Cut in Half? It’s No Dream!

By Shlomo Maital

 Today’s Bloomberg Business Week reports that after 50 years, five decades, in which commercial aircraft observed a rigid speed limit of 660 miles per hour – an incredibly long time for a key technology to undergo zero change! — help is on the way. In August NASA – National Aeronautical and Space Agency – will take bids on a fast quiet supersonic jetliner prototype (see photo):

NASA says it will begin taking bids for construction of a demo model of a plane able to reduce the sonic boom to something like the hum you’d hear inside a Mercedes-Benz on the interstate. The agency’s researchers say their design, a smaller-scale model of which was successfully tested in a wind tunnel at the end of June, should cut the six-hour flight time from New York to Los Angeles in half. NASA proposes spending $390 million over five years to build the demo plane and test it over populated areas. The first year of funding is included in President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal.

   The Concord, that beautiful supersonic jetliner built by France and England, now junked after a tragic accident, actually damaged the cause of supersonic flight.   Supersonic planes generate shock waves that are noisy, irritating and can cause major damage on the ground. So the US banned supersonic commercial flight over land, allowing Concord to land only at east coast airports, flying supersonic only over the ocean.   That ban made the Concord a technological triumph and an economic disaster, bringing big losses for British Air and Air France. Now, that may change.

   Bloomberg: NASA is targeting a sound level of 60 to 65 A-weighted decibels (dBa), Coen says. That’s about as loud as that luxury car on the highway or the background conversation in a busy restaurant. Peter Iosifidis [head of design] says that Lockheed’s research shows the design can maintain that sound level at commercial size and his team’s planned demo will be 94 feet long, have room for one pilot, fly as high as 55,000 feet, and run on one of the twin General Electric Co. engines that power Boeing Co.’s F/A-18 fighter jet. “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,” he says. By comparison, the Concorde, that bygone icon of the Champagne-sipping, caviar-scarfing supersonic jet set, had a perceived noise level several times louder, at 90 dBa. [Note: decibels are measurement units that are logarithmic; that’s why 90 is many times 65. Same goes for the Richter scale that measures earthquakes].

     Looks like we will live to see supersonic commercial flight return big time.   The business model will likely be ‘premium’ (as with Concord), for well-healed customers. But over time, the technology will as always get cheaper and trickle down to us ordinary folks.

       So – start calculating. That long 12-hour trip from TLV to JFK? One day it will be just six hours. Or JFK to Heathrow? 4 hours.   That means you could leave JFK at midnight, get to London at 9 a.m., put in a workday, and be home for dinner (you will arrive before you leave, i.e., leave at 7 pm UK time and arrive at 6 pm New York time) because at 1,400 mph,  the jetliner travels faster than the rotation of the earth).