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Supersonic Commercial Plane

  • 09 Jun 2021
  • 5 min read

Why in News

The US airline United has announced plans to buy 15 new supersonic airliners and "return supersonic speeds to aviation" in the year 2029.

  • The Airline has agreed to purchase the Overture aircraft from Boom Supersonic (a Denver-based start-up), with the planes able to fly at Mach 1.7 faster than the speed of sound.
  • The new supersonic “Overture” aircraft will become the world’s fastest commercial airliner, reducing travel time by about half of today’s planes.

Key Points

  • Background:
    • Concorde, the British-French turbojet-powered commercial airliner, was the first aircraft to carry passengers at supersonic speed. Supersonic planes flew passengers from 1976 until 2003.
    • But eventually had to discontinue, due to cost and other concerns.
  • Supersonic Plane:
    • Supersonic aircraft are planes that can fly faster than the speed of sound.
      • Usually, supersonic planes can travel at the speed of around 900 kmph, twice the speed of normal aircraft.
    • The technology for supersonic flights is actually over 70 years old, but only recently has been used for commercial flying.
      • Before 1976, when the first commercial supersonic flight took off, the planes were used entirely for military purposes.
  • Boom’s Overture Supersonic Aircraft:
    • The Overture aircraft would travel at the speed of Mach 1.7 or 1,805 kmph with a range of 4,250 nautical miles.
    • In a single flight, it could carry 65 to 88 passengers and reach an altitude of 60,000 ft.
    • Trial flights are scheduled to begin in 2026, with commercial use coming three year later.
    • It will build upon Concorde’s legacy through faster, more efficient and sustainable technology.
    • The company has claimed to produce an eco-friendly aircraft with “net-zero carbon emissions'', set to fly with 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
      • Sustainable aviation fuels include biofuels and synthetic kerosine that are manufactured using renewable and sustainable materials.
    • It aims for “zero overland noise.”
      • This essentially means that it will cruise at supersonic speeds only over water, ensuring that no sonic boom or excessive noise reaches the surfaces where people live.
      • It will be equipped with advanced aerodynamics and carbon composite materials.
      • This will be able to cut significant development and maintenance costs in ways which the Concorde planes could not.
  • Challenges with Supersonic Planes:
    • High Manufacturing Cost: The costs of making “sustainable” supersonic planes are extremely high.
    • Environmental Cost: The very nature of its flying using excessive amounts of fuel and energy is likely to have high environmental costs.
      • Despite the use of sustainable fuels, the greenhouse gas emissions are not nullified.
      • The plane consumes high amounts of fuel in order to take off, that too in a market where sustainable fuels aren’t readily available.
    • Excessive Noise Pollution: The speed of the planes result in producing excessive amounts of noise pollution in the environment.
      • The “Sonic Boom” created by these planes feels like an explosion to the human ear.
      • This, thus, limits where and when the supersonic planes can fly. They can only reach their actual speed until they are far enough from people and completely over the ocean.
    • Regulatory Approvals: To fly such planes can be unsuccessful, especially for transatlantic flights. Getting clearance from regulators around the world would be a challenging task, since the supersonic planes in the past have already been flagged for these hurdles.
    • Too Costly: It would not be economically feasible for everyone. Only the very rich can afford supersonic planes, as a ticket is likely to be way more costlier than a first class ticket of a regular plane.

Source: IE

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