Chinese scientists say that they have created a hypersonic jet that could carry passengers anywhere in the world in under three hours! Traveling at 6,000 kilometers per hour, it is five times faster than the speed of sound (Mach 5). This is more than six times the speed of today’s commercial planes, and twice that of a supersonic aircraft.
Initially set to be used for military purposes, China says that it could eventually be used to ferry passengers from Beijing to New York in under three hours. The journey currently takes almost fourteen hours.
The team of Chinese researchers tested a scaled-down model of the jet in a wind tunnel, where it reached maximum speeds of 8,600 kilometers per hour. In comparison, the highest speed of the Concorde, the erstwhile supersonic passenger airline, is 2,179 kilometers per hour. The new aircraft uses two sets of wings to reduce turbulence and drag.
Hypersonic travel, loosely defined as being at Mach 5 speeds, are difficult to achieve. In hypersonic travel, temperatures get so hot that air molecules become unstable creating an electrically-charged field. So far, most hypersonic flights have been unmanned. The earliest recorded hypersonic flight was the Nazi V-2 rocket used in World War II, which reached speeds of almost 8,300 kilometres per hour.
While talk of hypersonic travel has been getting increasing coverage of late, supersonic commercial planes (those traveling faster than the speed of sound, 1,236 kilometers per hour), are set to enter the market as early as 2020. These jets, introduced by companies such as Boom Supersonic, can travel at 2,335 kilometers per hour, or Mach 2.2.
These planes carry 50 to 55 passengers and can travel from New York to London in just a few hours. However, it is likely to be business-class only.
Aircraft manufacturer Boeing is also working on a separate hypersonic jet with Lockheed Martin, though details about this venture are extremely scarce.