When Concorde was grounded back in 2003, so vanished the ability to travel commercially at supersonic speeds. But it looks like traveling beyond the speed of sound might be back on the agenda, as Airbus have won approval from the US Patent Office for an amazing hypersonic passenger plane.
First proposed back in 2011 the idea is that the craft will use three different types of engine power so it can jump above the atmosphere, while still using normal runways to takeoff. It means travel times from New York to London could be slashed from seven to only one hour.
Documents filed in the patent say the jet would travel at Mach 4+, twice the speed of Concorde, or around 2,600mph, which is over three times the speed of sound. And will have a cruising altitude of around 12 miles higher than that of current commercial airplanes.
It will only be able to carry around 20 passengers though, or around two to three tons. The patent, which refers to the plane as an "ultra-rapid air vehicle" also mentions a military version for "ultra-rapid transport of high added-value goods or elite commandos".
The reason it can only take 20 passengers, as opposed to Concorde's 120, is most of the space is taken up with its different types of engine. These will be two ram-jets (which are used in missiles) under the wings, a pair of turbo-jets (which is what conventional passenger planes have) under the front fuselage, and a rocket engine at the rear end fuselage.
It will take off using the turbo-jet engine, then the rocket boosters will kick in giving it a sharp ascent, sending it whooshing off into the atmosphere. This take-off method, they claim, means the plane will avoid the problematic sonic boom which supersonic planes experience as they break the sound barrier—and led to noise complaints against Concorde, marring its success as a commercial aircraft.
However, just because the patent's been approved doesn't mean this thing will ever be built. And if it is, it could be years and years before it's available for commercial travel, and will be way out of the price range of your average Joe. It'll be for VIPs and the uber-rich only.