UK firm designs hypersonic passenger jet

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Reaction Engines A2 simulation flight.
Image: Adrian Mann, Reaction Engines.

A firm in Oxford, United Kingdom has recently released plans for a hypersonic passenger airplane able to travel at speeds up to Mach 5 with a range of 20,000 km. Reaction Engines of Oxfordshire says the A2 plane could be in service within 25 years, carrying 300 passengers at a top speed of almost 4,000 mph, which is twice the speed of the Concorde. It would be able to reach Australia from Brussels Airport, Belgium non-stop in just five hours.

It is 143 meters (469 feet) long, which is approximately twice the length of the Airbus A380 and would be the first man-made object to cruise for extended periods at such speeds within the Earth's atmosphere. Man-made aircraft have travelled this fast before; they, however, were inefficient rocket powered aircraft, that were only capable of short range.

The cost of a trip on the A2 is expected to be comparable with current first class tickets on standard flights, of around US$6,900 (£3,500), although it is possible prices will drop in the future.

"The A2 is designed to leave Brussels international airport, fly quietly and subsonically out into the north Atlantic at Mach 0.9 before reaching Mach 5 across the North Pole and heading over the Pacific to Australia," said Alan Bond, the head of Reaction Engines.

Due to the heat generated in high-speed flight, the plane would have no windows. Instead, television screens connected to video cameras on the outside of the plane will be placed in front of passenger seats.

The jet may be more environmentally friendly than other planes because it uses liquid hydrogen for power rather than fossil fuel, and thus would not necessarily produce any pollution during the flight. The energy to produce the liquid hydrogen could come from an environmentally friendly source.

"Our work shows that it is possible technically; now it's up to the world to decide if it wants it," Bond said.


This audio file was created from the text revision dated 01:11, 7 February 2008 and may not reflect subsequent text edits to this report. (audio help)