Airbus Patents a Plane Fit for the Space Age


Among the long list of major miseries and minor annoyances which come with air travel in the current era is this one supremely irritating fact; once you finally get into the air, you are not travelling one bit faster than a passenger first boarding a Boeing 707 in October, 1958. In fact, in some cases you are travelling just a bit slower on average than in previous decades in order to save the airline a bit of fuel and make it unnecessary to charge outrageous fees for luggage or overbook flights.

To put it another way, the commercial jet age began in earnest (sorry Comet) three months after NASA was created, and much like as happened with space exploration, an initial era of frenzied development and accomplishment has been accompanied by a long, slow age of marginal improvements. The one noteworthy exception was of course the Concorde, and its Soviet doppelganger the TU-144. That era came to an end in 2003, with the retirement of the Concorde following series of events including a July 2000 fatal accident caused by an exploding tire, and the slump in air travel following the Sept 11th attacks. It did not help matters that the first flight carrying passengers (BA employees) after the 2000 accident landed in New York that very morning. Those were not the only factors; lack of competition to drive innovation and soaring fuel costs all conspired to bring the first era of commercial supersonic air travel to a close. The one segment of air travel which seemed appropriate for the space age was over.

At least for the time being.

Last month, Airbus, the company whose very name captures the depressing spirit of modern air travel was granted a U.S. patent for a three phase propulsion supersonic transport/airliner which would easily eclipse the Concorde’s performance, albeit it at apparently a much higher price. The media has quickly dubbed the concept “son of Concorde,”  although its combination of a retractable jet engine, ramjets and cryogenic rocket engine suggests mom may have been getting around some. The article in Business Insider, which was one of the first media outlets to report the story, is here.

Will anything come of it? Who knows, the future has thus far not been all that futuristic where air travel is concerned. Even relatively modest improvements in speed such as that incorporated in Boeing’s Sonic Cruiser project have been shelved in favor of the efficiency embodied in the 787 Dreamliner. On the other hand, we are also entering a new era, where startups and NewSpace companies are changing the perceptions of what can be accomplished. While Airbus is neither, it certainly has the wherewithal to bring such a project to the runway, if the economics make any sort of sense.

After all, increased cabin pressure and soothing blue lighting can only go so far.

Posted in: Space Planes

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