Sci&Tech

Hypersonic: Flying Paris to Tokyo in 2.5 hours

LE BOURGET, France: Fancy traveling from Paris to Tokyo in two and a half hours? Do you yearn for the Concorde days?

Aerospace group EADS, owner of planemaker Airbus, thinks it has the answer – a hypersonic jet that flies above the atmosphere, yet takes off from a regular runway.

“It is not a Concorde but it looks like a Concorde, showing that aerodynamics of the 1960s were very smart,” said Jean Bottin, the chief technical officer for EADS.

By flying above the atmosphere and using biofuel to get the plane off the ground initially, the group hopes to avoid the supersonic boom and pollution Concorde was notorious for. “When you are above the atmosphere nobody hears anything,” Bottin said.

The plane, being developed in collaboration with Japan, is being designed with the business market in mind and could carry 50-100 passengers.

The concept project, known as ZEHST (zero emission high speed transport), comes as companies such as Virgin Galactic push forward with plans to take paying customers up on commercial space flights. Indeed, ZEHST is being developed using research from EADS’ space arm Astrium.

Unlike Virgin Galactic customers, EADS says ZEHST would have a maximum acceleration of 1.2G, meaning passengers will not need any training in order to fly.

“The acceleration on people is very low, so no specific equipment or training is needed,” Bottin said.

The plane will take off using a regular turbofan engine, before rocket boosters generate a sharp ascent, sending the plane soaring above the atmosphere.

Ramjet engines, currently used in missiles, will then take the plane up to altitudes of 32km as the plane cruises at speeds beyond Mach 4, or four times the speed of sound. After a gliding descent, the turbofans will reignite to enable landing.

“ZEHST has no novelty, it is all things that have been created before,” Bottin said. The company could have an unmanned demonstrator by 2020, she added.

EADS boss Louis Gallois warned it could be another 30-40 years before commercial flights are a reality. “We’re not talking about a product that we launch in the next few years. We have to see security, integration of different technologies, how man reacts to it.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 20, 2011, on page 12.

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