Aviation

Supersonic jets are set to fly again – but must overcome the problems that grounded the Concord

By Scroll

United Airlines has announced it will purchase up to 50 Boom Overture supersonic jets for commercial use by 2029, heralding the return of supersonic passenger flights nearly 20 years after the Concorde was decommissioned.

Supersonic planes halve the time it takes to fly from New York to London, from seven hours down to three-and-a-half hours, but such airliners were abandoned following Concorde’s final flight in 2003. Concorde had become financially unworkable after a high-profile crash in 2000, combined with excessive ticket prices, high fuel consumption, and increasingly high maintenance costs.

If Boom’s supersonic aircraft is to succeed, it will depend on overcoming these issues that derailed Concorde. So can it be done?

Breaking the sound barrier
Supersonic flights are so called because they travel faster than the speed of sound. To do this, the aircraft must break through the sound barrier, which requires an efficient aerodynamic design to reduce drag, and considerable thrust from powerful engines to overcome the turbulence caused by shock waves.

Breaking the sound barrier also requires engines which burn through lots of jet fuel – one of Concorde’s key drawbacks and something that’s only become more contentious in recent years.

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