Concorde 2.0: Return of the supersonic jet

No matter how long it takes, a good idea will eventually resurface. Doctor Who brought his TARDIS back to television screens sixteen years after cancellation, the Mini trundles along Britain’s motorways again and the functional efficiency of the Nokia 3310 has just made it back to production a generation after its initial unveiling. So when Concorde bit runway dust in 2003, it was only a matter of years before a sequel was on the drawing boards…

Concorde: The Original

Concorde was an aviation phenomenon. The turbojet-powered supersonic soarer was a combination of British and French engineering ingenuity and flew at top speeds twice the speed of sound – completing a record-breaking 5,000 hours of testing before its inaugural commercial flight. Top speeds and top prices meant Concorde was a premium transatlantic transport option primarily for wealthy travellers. Following a fatal crash in 2000, it succumbed to financial pressures and was eventually grounded three years later.

Concorde: The Sequel

Airbus has patented plans for a follow-up jet engine similar in concept to its forbearer. Nominally called Concorde 2.0, it’s set to boast cruising speeds that are twice as fast as its predecessor, flying at an impressive Mach 4.5 using a hydrogen power source.

For take-off, a plane built for such speeds needs considerable power. More spacecraft than commercial airliner, the jet’s ascent is closer to lift-off than mere runway take-off. Once safely off the ground Concorde 2.0 will start a vertical ascent, with two enormously powerful turbojets under the fuselage and a rocket motor in the rear.

Once at cruising altitude of around 100,000 feet, the turbojets retract and power down, leaving the sole rocket motor at the rear end of the fuselage doing all the leg work.

Sonic boom…

But what of the ear-splitting cacophony of the sonic boom? Breaking the sound barrier proved one of Concorde’s biggest commercial barriers and was responsible for its ban across several countries, severely limiting its profitability. Airbus think they may just have that problem covered.

For starters, the height attained by the new jet would lead to an early dissipation of the infamous bang largely before it hit the ground. Secondly, the incline of its vertical trajectory propels the sound in all directions, rather than directly towards the earth. Problem dispersed.

Destination: Unknown

Currently only available as patented plans, there’s no immediate flight scheduled for take-off. But you can be sure that Airbus haven’t just drawn up these plans for fun. The patent application was filed in 2011. Yet it’s likely they will be subject to huge revision before any legitimate manufacturing begins. The core idea is there though. Perhaps oddly in these climate change-sensitive times, the current designs allow for a maximum of only 20 passengers. Compared to the 120 of its previous incarnation, that’s a huge reduction on potential customers. Like the original, it’s looking like this will be geared towards a prestige client base, rather than your average family off for a week to Disneyland.

Flights of fancy

Concorde 2.0 would slash current flight times, bringing a standard flight time between London and New York down from 7.5 hours to an astonishing 1 hour. Or how about taking off in Paris and landing in Tokyo three hours later?

Those speeds would redefine air travel. So, will Concorde 2.0 spur competitors into adopting similar technology? Or will the inability to carry more than 20 passengers relegate this innovation to no more than a pie in the sky idea? Either way, we’re excited to see what eventually takes off.

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