Boeing unveils design for hypersonic passenger plane
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Boeing unveils design for hypersonic passenger plane

Boeing has revealed a concept design for a hypersonic aircraft that could reach most locations in the world within one to three hours.

The American aerospace company showed a rendering of what the plane could look like at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference in Atlanta this week.

Boeing said the design was based on current research by company engineers, who are looking at passenger travel as one of many possible applications for the hypersonic technology they are developing.

Plane would fly at Mach 5

The technology would mean flying at Mach 5 (around 3,836 miles per hour). That's much faster than the supersonic travel achieved by the Concorde, which flew at Mach 2. The speed of sound is Mach 1.

Boeing estimates that something like this concept could be operational in 20 to 30 years' time, and would most likely be used for national security purposes first.

"We're excited about the potential of hypersonic technology to connect the world faster than ever before," said Kevin Bowcutt, Boeing's senior technical fellow and chief scientist of hypersonics.

"Boeing is building upon a foundation of six decades of work designing, developing and flying experimental hypersonic vehicles, which makes us the right company to lead the effort in bringing this technology to market in the future."

Aircraft to be built "when customers are ready"

The company clarified that it does not currently have plans to build hypersonic aircraft; rather, it is working on the enabling technology.

The research would position the company to make the aircraft "when customers and markets are ready to reap the benefits of hypersonic flight".

"By looking decades ahead at what could be possible, we are smarter about what innovations and technologies we should be exploring now," said a spokesperson for Boeing.

"Boeing's expertise in designing, developing and testing game-changing concepts make us the ideal company to lead the charge for faster, more-efficient, customer-centric ways to connect the world."

Supersonic flight returning

Boeing's concept design features a thin, curved aircraft body that ends in a sharply pointed nose. It has a delta wing — the flat triangular silhouette familiar from Concorde planes.

Since those supersonic jets were grounded in 2003, there has been little visible progress in ultra-fast commercial air travel. That appears to be changing, with NASA putting a near-silent supersonic plane into production earlier this year and new company Boom testing its own passenger aircraft.

Virgin Galactic and SpaceX also have ambitions to adapt their rockets for earthly transportation. Elon Musk has claimed they would allow people to travel from "any city to any other city in under one hour".

Boeing's concept design will be on display at the Farnborough International Airshow, which is on from 16 to 22 July in the south of England.