Will there be a roaring 20s in aviation?
Consider the following dates:
- 24 October 2003
- 8 July 2011
- 14 February 2019
- October 25, 2019
These are respectively the last flight of the Concorde, the last flight of the Space Shuttle, the last order of the A380 and the grounding of the 737 Max.
Currently, the aviation industry is hit hard by Covid-19. It seems like we are in the dark ages of aviation.
A new horizon
The dark ages are now, but the renaissance is on the horizon. Will there be a roaring 20s in aviation this decade?
The fastest passenger aircraft in service today is the Boeing 747–8i, also known as the 747–8 Intercontinental. This model of the Queen of the Skies has a top speed of Mach 0.86 (635 mph/1053.5 kph). The 747 is now on its way back. British Airways already retired its entire fleet.
What will be its successors? What will we see on the horizon in this decade? In this article I will discuss several companies and vehicles that are very promising for the future of aviation.
Flying taxis (eVTOL) will not set bar with new top speeds. They will however bring competition on the short range. One of the most promising is a prototype of the German company Lilium.
The company was founded in 2016. In 2019, its prototype Lilium-1 flew for the first time. The top speed was 62mph (100 km/h). Hopefully in the twenties it will be available in our city.
In 2017, Lilium announced plans to launch a 5-seat Lilium Jet by 2025. The company is one of the best funded right now, but there are many more eVTOL concepts and prototypes so it’s likely that one of them is going to be successful.
Gulfstream creates business passenger jets. Its current model 650ER has already very decent specs. It made a 9,642-mile (15,518-km) flight at an average speed of Mach 0.78, or around 597 mph/960 km/h.
Its upcoming model the G700 is powered by a Rolls-Royce Pearl 700 engine. This gives it a top speed of Mach 0.9 (668 mph, 1,074 km/h). Making it one of the fastest passenger airplanes.
Aerion Supersonic is another business class passenger jet company. It’s a serious contender in the race to renew supersonic flight after the Concorde. The Concorde used to fly with 100 passengers, the AS2 is expected to fly with 12 passengers.
Aerion is partnering with Lockheed Martin, Boeing and NASA to make this a reality. It should fly at Mach 1.4 (1,038 mph, 1,671 km/h). Boeing and NASA are also working on their own supersonic concepts.
Spike Aerospace is currently testing its Demonstrator prototype to finally release their consumer model, the S-512.
S-512 will be a 22-passenger supersonic jet. The S-512 should be flying with Mach 1.6 (1,218 mph, 1,960 KM/Hour) and is said to have low-boom signature. Maiden flight as expecting in 2021.
Boom Supersonic is the third contender to follow in the footsteps of the Concorde. Spike announced its Demonstrator in 2017 and Boom Supersonic was one year ahead in 2016 with its XB-1 Demonstrator prototype.
Now it's working towards commercial realization of a plane named Overture. This should carry 55 passengers. It is expected that it will reach Mach 2.2 (1,451 mph or 2,335 km/h).
To reach this goal Boom is cooperating with Rolls-Royce who also worked on the Concorde.
Virgin Galactic isn’t as far as the earlier mentioned companies, but its target is set even higher. Goal is a speed of Mach 3 (2,225 mph, 3,581 km/h). First step is the commercialization of VSS Unity to bring tourist to the edge of space. The VSS Unity offers space for 6 passengers, while the goal of its concept is at least 19 passengers.
Blue Origin like Virgin Galactic is in the business of private spaceflights. This is of course a different ball game than flight on earth. Still like Virgin its technologies can be used for commercial passengers flights. One of the differences is that it has vertical takeoff and landing.
The current status is that they have a passenger rocket called The New Shepard. It’s designed to carry six passengers to the edge of space. The first test flight of the New Shepard already reach Mach 3 (2,225 mph, 3,581 km/h).
SpaceX is the furthest as it developed proven-technologies that can take a crew of 2 already to the ISS. The ultimate goal is a bus line between the earth and Mars for hundreds of passengers. It also has a vision for earth to earth travel with hypersonic rockets.
It currently does various tests with its Starship prototype. There isn’t a lot of specs available yet, but Low Earth orbit demands speeds of around 23 mach (28.200 km/h,17.500 mph).
SpaceX expects to carry around 100-passengers. Just as airplanes the rocket is completely reusable.
In fall 2020 Microsoft added virtual reality support to the game Flight Simulator. If they also add one of the above mentioned planes than we can fly them with supersonic speeds ourselves to any virtual place in the world.
In the virtual world you of course don’t need a plane. Travelling would be instantly. You travel without moving. When Google would introduce Maps as VR application you may meet in a certain place in the world faster than ever. In this building there is a virtual meeting with Microsoft Teams.
How fast is virtual travel really? Basically you can travel as fast as data can travel, which in fiber optic cables, is somewhere around 60% of the speed of light in a vacuum. So around 200,000 km/s/124 274 m/s.
While one person is in London and the other in New York the connection would take 0.028 seconds before the other one sees you.
Virtual travelling is what we already do during Covid-19 pandemic. It’s fast and cheap. Secretly we all just want the real thing: flying cars, supersonic jets and space rockets. After the pandemic is over I hope to board one of these planes. Their specs are summarized in the following table:
From autonomous flying-taxis to experimental hypersonic craft, check out what's new in the world of aviation.