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SFO to JFK in less than an hour? It could happen

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On Tuesday, a test flight over the Pacific Ocean near Los Angeles could pave the way for hypersonic commercial air travel that would cut the time of a cross-country flight from over five hours to less than one.

A B-52 will carry the the X-51A WaveRider “scramjet” unmanned test craft on its wing from Edwards Air Force Base out over Point Mugu.  At about 50,000 feet over the ocean, the B-52 will drop the craft which, if all goes well, will reach speeds of about 3,600 mph (or Mach 6)  if only for about 300 seconds, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, DARPA, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne(s utx) and Boeing(s ba) are collaborating on the project to show the feasibility of hypersonic flight. Obviously, the military would love to have hypersonic missiles and other fast-and-stealthy hardware.

But hypersonic commercial flights are not outside the realm of possibility over time. EADS has been working on its own vision of hypersonic commercial flights promising Paris-to-Tokyo journeys of under 3 hours.  But they’re not expected any time soon. The European Commission has set aside $6.15 million  to test out high-speed planes.

Commercial supersonic flight is not unprecedented. The Concorde aircraft flown by Air France and British Airways hit speeds of up to Mach 2 or about 1,350 mph, and could fly from New York to London in about 3 hours. But they were notoriously inefficient and expensive — and cramped.  The program was not economically sustainable and was discontinued a decade ago.  Cost and efficiency will be factors to consider for airlines evaluating hypersonic flight going forward as well.

Still, I’d be willing to bet there’s a market for high-cost but extremely fast cross-country flights. As The Times reported, a coast-to-coast trip at X-51 speeds would take 46 minutes. And, at that clip, who cares about airline food or if the Wi-Fi works?

Check out the video simulation of WaveRider

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user MultiplyLeadership

16 Responses to “SFO to JFK in less than an hour? It could happen”

  1. cyclobob

    Hey how about this as an idea for faster travel? You rock up at the airport, leave all your bags at check in, change into a sleeper suit, get put into a deep sleep and then are wheeled through a body scanner and stacked into tubes on the plane. Then we would have no issues about security, upgrades, no complaints about AA in flight service and food, no stress as even if there was an air accident you would no nothing about it and you would be woken up at the destination fully rested. It’s the future of air travel…. Not.

  2. GeorgeM

    With less than a hour in the air at top speed what would be the elapsed time from the Transamerica Building to the Empire State Building?
    This will include:
    Travel time to and from airports
    Time between ground transport vheicles and airplane
    Times waiting for airplane to take off and land as well as time waiting to leave aircraft

    Finally, what would be the fractional reduction in total travel time?

  3. Nope. we won’t be able to get from LAX to SFO in an hour (because it takes AT LEAST that long to get through TSA security.) TSA security will get proportionately slower, in relation to the speed of flight. (That should become some sort of principle or law of science?)
    The LAX to SFO flight is a similar distance as TPA to Havana, Cuba. NASA and the DoD (our government) can experiment with the future of flight. But, they can’t befriend one of our closest neighboring countries.
    Heck, Russia has been cruising a nuclear sub in the Gulf of Mexico for a full month (undetected.) So, they don’t need missiles in Cuba anymore. Isn’t it time to stop punishing a people/culture, for the errors of their political leaders? Or, maybe it’s time to start holding OUR country’s leaders more-accountable for their own errors?…

  4. Sigh. The X-51 is not paving the way for hypersonic travel. It is paving the way for Prompt Global Strike, the ability to put a non-nuclear warhead anywhere in the world in 60 mins.

  5. cyclobob

    Commercial operation is an interesting idea, but given the furor the US put up when Supersonic flight by Concord was planned and the subsequent restrictions placed on faster than sound flight (because of the supersonic bangs) I very much doubt 46 minutes would be achievable as most of the 46 minutes would be spent in getting far enough out to sea to accelerate and then slowing to subsonic before entering a populated area again.

  6. Doug Pearson

    In college in the middle 50’s, one of my early aeronautical engineering classes included a survey of propulsion systems; one of the featured systems was a scramjet.

    60 years later, there has been maybe one or two successful flights. “Successful” meaning the flight actually reached hypersonic speed for a minute or so.

    At that rate, I’m not holding my breath waiting for commercial flights.