How Long Before Commercial Hypersonic Travel?

With Concorde no longer with us and the return of supersonic commercial transport extremely unlikely, here at PIF, we've turned our attention to hypersonic travel and asked ourselves the question 'How long before commercial hypersonic travel?'

Concordes final flight

With news of the Hyperloop fresh in the memory we can't help but wonder how long it will be before we can get from London to Sydney without having to sit in the cabin of an aircraft for over 24 hours. It is estimated that a commercial flight in a hypersonic aircraft will take approximately 90 mins to get us from Australia to London.

How Fast is Hypersonic?

Since the 1970s, the term has generally been assumed to refer to speeds of Mach 5 and above.

The precise Mach number at which a craft can be said to be flying at hypersonic speed varies, since individual physical changes in the airflow (like molecular dissociation and ionization) occur at different speeds; these effects collectively become important around Mach 5. The hypersonic regime is often alternatively defined as speeds where ramjets do not produce net thrust.

Here is an indication of how fast Hypersonic really is:

  • Subsonic = <610 mph (0.8 mach)
  • Transonic= 610-915 mph (0.8-1.2 mach)
  • Supersonic= 915-3,840 mph (1.2 - 5.0 mach)
  • Hypersonic= 3,840-7,680 mph (5.0-10.0 mach)
  • High Hypersonic= 7,680-16,250 mph (10.0-25.0 mach)
  • Re-Entry Speeds= >16,250 mph (25.0 mach)

Are We Close to Commercial Hypersonic Air Travel?

In short, no we're not. However, on the 4th May 2013, an unmanned X-51A WaveRider made the longest air-breathing, scramjet-powered hypersonic flight in history. The X-51A WaveRider flew for approximately three and a half minutes, reaching a top speed of Mach 5.1 before crash landing in the Pacific Ocean after running out of fuel.

X-51 Hypersonic final flight

X-51A program manager, Charlie Brink said in an Air Force news release that:

"It was a full mission success. I believe all we have learned from the X-51A WaveRider will serve as the bedrock for future hypersonics research and ultimately the practical application of hypersonic flight."

There is no direct successor to the X-51A program, however, the Air Force stated that it "will continue hypersonic research and the successes of the X-51A will pay dividends to the High Speed Strike Weapon program currently in its early formation phase."

So, how excited are you at the prospect of hypersonic travel? Take a look at the video below to see the X-51A break the World Record for 'longest air breathing hypersonic flight in history.'

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