by John Grimaldi
WASHINGTON DC, July 7 — Experts predicted the failure of commercial supersonic air travel long before the first Concordes took off on January 21, 1976 ushering in a short-lived era of Super Sonic Travel [SST]. On that day a British Airways SST took off from London’s Heathrow Airport headed for Bahrain in the Persian Gulf and an Air France SuperJet flew from Paris to Rio de Janeiro, both carrying plane loads of passengers. After all, the Concorde was a British-French joint venture.
However, try as they might, the Concorde was inefficient and very expensive to maintain. And at least one commercial aviation expert warned that despite the plane’s cruising speed of about 1,500 miles per hour, it was too slow to make it worth the exorbitant cost of a seat. An average round trip New York-London ticket, according to the Smithsonian Magazine, set you back about $12,000 in 1976. According to the CPI Inflation Calculator, that’s the equivalent of $63,656 today. Alas, the last flight of the Concorde took place in 2003. But efforts are underway to build a better, more efficient SST airplane.
The website, Jalopnik, reports that supersonic travel is not a thing of the past, that there is a market of “wealthy airline passengers” who await “the return of faster-than-sound transit” and that there are several companies focused on delivering “the spiritual successor to the Concorde very soon. American Airlines and United have both put deposits down on one company’s supersonic jet — the Boom Supersonic Overture — that promises to be in passenger service by 2029.”
As fast as SSTs are, one of the reasons that the Concorde failed in the end was the fact that the three hours or so that it took that plane to travel from New York to London was not fast enough to make its high cost worth it. High rollers are not willing to pay the premium to simply cut little more than three hours off their trip; they want to be able to fly to London in an hour or so, have a business lunch and get back to New York in time to have a late afternoon cocktail before dinner. Thus, the new focus is on the creation of hypersonic passenger aircraft.
Retired Air Force Brigadier General Blaine Holt recently told Newsmax that the next horizon as regards commercial airfare is decidedly hypersonic. As he put it, “People are turning away from folks who think our best days are behind us undaunted and going into science and tech. We are coming back to something that is in our bones as a nation. Hypersonics, and the science that spins off of it, is so exciting.”
The Newsmax report explains that while the SSTs of yore traveled at about Mach 2 or 1,535 miles per hour, a hypersonic flies at a speed of Mach 9 or more than 6,900 miles an hour, making it possible to fly from New York to Tokyo in about an hour– a trip that today takes conventional airliners more than 14 hours. The report focuses on the work in progress of Venus Aerospace of Houston, TX. It’s working on a hypersonic aircraft that can carry about a dozen passengers at Mach 9.
Hermeus in Atlanta, GA says it is planning to have a plane that could get passengers from New York to Paris in an hour and a half and that it will be ready by 2029.