Back to the Future? Supersonic Flight in the Decades Ahead



On November 23rd, 2003 the last sonic boom from a passenger airliner faded over the Atlantic Ocean. The sleek, sexy Concorde would never fly again, resigned to a static existence in museums in the UK and America. After three decades of service the Mach 2 airliner was never profitable, but the lure of supersonic flight remains.

Will supersonic travel in the form of an updated Concorde return? Airbus has gone big with the Airbus A380, while Boeing has designed efficiency into their 787 Dreamliner. The biggest challenge facing supersonic flight is the sonic boom. But not all sonic booms are created equal and with that in mind NASA is currently developing new technologies that could be available for use in supersonic aircraft by 2025.

Reducing the impact of a sonic boom through new designs and technology is just one part of a larger equation. Remarkably since 1970 the FAA and the International Civil Aviation Organization have never defined the loudness of a sonic. With a new definition in place the pace of development should increase.

Right now the design tools and results have reached a point where quiet, low boom overland supersonic flight is possible. Some, like aeronautics company Hyper mach, are looking at ‘electromagnet drag reduction technology’ to soften the boom and push speeds up to Mach 3.6 for overland flight.

Is there a Concorde II in the making? Yes and no. Several aircraft manufacturers are betting the market for supersonic flight is alive and well and have a variety of new business jet designs on the drawing board. It’s just a matter of time before the sonic boom is the new sound of air travel.