Saturday, February 03, 2007

Supersonic airliners

The Boeing 2707 SST was to be the first American supersonic airliner. It would have been built at the Boeing plant in Renton, Washington. President John F. Kennedy committed the government to subsidizing the development of a commercial airliner to compete with the Concorde & Russia's TU-144 which was rather unsafe. Ultimately, Boeing's swing-wing design was selected as the winner of the US SST competition. They called their SST the Model 2707. Whereas the Concorde and TU-144 cruised at Mach 2.2 to 2.4, and the Boeing design cruised at Mach 2.7, hence 2707.

Boeing 2707

In the early 1960s, the Bristol Aeroplane Company (which later became part of the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC)) in England and Sud-Aviation (which later became Aerospatiale) in France were both working on designs for a supersonic passenger airliner, the Concorde.

The last flight of this Air France Concorde

At that time, unknown to anyone in the Western World, the Soviet Union was also working on a supersonic transport (SST) known as the TU-144. The TU-144 was very similar to the Concorde in size and shape, but was designed to fly a little faster at Mach 2.35 (1,500 mph). If you flew in this plane and your trip was un-interrupted with mechanical failure and massive vibrations, then you were lucky.

Soviet Tu-144

The project was eventually canceled before the 2707 ever flew. Political, economic, and environmental factors led the United States to cancel the project. In March 1971, the US Senate rejected further funding and the project was cancelled 20 May 1971. At the time, there were 122 unfilled orders by 26 airlines, including PanAm, Continental, American Airlines and TWA. The two prototypes were never completed. This is a shame.

As envisioned by NASA's High-Speed Research (HSR) program, the next-generation High-Speed Civil Transport (HSCT) would fly 300 passengers at 2.4 times the speed of sound - crossing the Pacific or Atlantic in less than half the time presently required on modern subsonic, wide-bodied jets - at an affordable ticket price, estimated at less than 20 percent above comparable subsonic flights. The technology to make the this HSCT possible is being developed by an unprecedented teaming of major U.S. aerospace companies in the multi-year HSR program. Although actual development of such an advanced supersonic transport (SST) is currently on hold, commercial aviation experts estimate that a market for up to 500 such aircraft could develop by the third decade of the 21st Century.

NASA's mock up of what a HSCT would look like.

The top speed of a Boeing 747 at 30,000 feet is about 605 MPH which is nearly Mach 0.9. It takes about 12 hours for the 747 to fly from Auckland to Los Angeles and it does so in relative comfort.

The Boeing 747-400

Mach 2.4 is about 1629 MPH at 30,000 feet. This is 2.6 times the speed of the Boeing 747 therefore it would take just under 5 hours to fly in a plane capable of this speed provided it could do it non stop from Auckland to LAX.

So if the ticket from Auckland to LAX return is currently NZ$2300 and you could fly to LAX return in 5 hours (each way) for around NZ$3000 would you do it? I would. (although in reality I am sure the price would be closer to $5,000). This would make it possible for you to leave Auckland at 10am, get to LA at 6pm, have dinner and go out for a night on the town get up go to the airport, leave at 10am and get back to Auckland at noon. This would be an expensive 26 hour ordeal but wouldn't it be fun.

I hope the airline manufacturers are continuing the research on efficient supersonic airliners as we speak, that would be the next step in making the world smaller and traveling less time consuming.


stef said...

Damn that usual AKL - LAX is outrageously expensive. And no, much as I despise flying saving so little time for that much money isn't worth it.

Rymann said...

I'll always regret not flying Concorde. It was a massive shame they stopped operating. I know Branson wanted to buy a couple from BA, but after that law case where BA was caught dumpster diving for sensitive Virgin documents, well, it clearly was never going to happen. Uncle Richard of course knew it, but he's never one to shy away from the media.

As far as the LAX AKL trip goes, we seem to forget what spoiled little piggys we are today when it comes to globe trotting. That we can sit and watch movies in a quiet, comfortable space while eating a meal and drinking wine is absolutely phenomenal. In our grandparents time this trip took several days as the Pan Am clippers hopped across the Pacific. And of course in their parents day we were talking about a protracted journey by steamer.

Rob Good said...

At least on a steam ship unless you got ill aboard you arrived in the time zone.