According to this video, NASA and Boeing are doing research into a new generation of hypersonic passenger planes that can travel at Mach 5. The designs look really cool and I would love to see them in the air someday.

What I am curious about is the business model for such a plane. Are they planning on targeting high-end business travelers alone, or could the ability to make multiple flights in a very short time span bring the cost down enough for the rest of us to be able to afford a seat? Or is this another bid for the high-end market alone?

As a side note, whatever the market is for superfast travel, Elon Musk also seems to think that that there is a business opportunity there.

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    $\begingroup$ Learning from history, this might just be another subsidy for military research using civilian money. If there is no business case for supersonic travel, how can there be one for hypersonic travel? $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Jul 20 '18 at 4:22
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    $\begingroup$ I've built a semi-empirical model to evaluate a similar question for Mach 1.1-1.7 range, so plugged in M5 for a joke. The "super best case" scenario suggests $2,000+/pax just in fuel for JFK-HTR. The problems are thrust at takeoff, which with scramjets' low T:W makes for heavy engines, and long climb burning most of the fuel for the flight. $\endgroup$ – Therac Jul 20 '18 at 11:03

Well it’s cool but it’s nothing new. Hypersonic transports and runway to orbit vehicles have been proposed since the late 1970s but never materialized into flyable hardware for a number of reasons, mainly engineers have not been able to solve the technical challenges associated with structures, propulsion, mission profiles, heat transfer and protection, operating costs for skittish airline operators, etc.

The new Boeing hypersonic transport may be the quantum leap forward for air and space travel but it could easily join the heap of fantastic ‘paper airplanes’ that never flew or possibly flew as clandestine prototypes such as:

  • Rockwell National Aerospace Plane - “Orient Express” from Reagan’s 1986 State of the Union Address.
  • Lockheed SR-91 “Aurora” reconnaissance aircraft.
  • High Speed Civil Transport concept from the 1990s
  • Lockheed Martin X-33 / VentureStar SSTO concept
  • German Sänger concept aircraft
  • Lockheed SR-72 Spy plane of the 2010s

As far as the passenger world is concerned, the big market are the transpacific routes, where the high-speed would make a major difference in travel times for both the public as well as business travel. If you could design a hypersonic aircraft that has a 6000 - 7000 mile range with operating costs in the neighborhood of 30 to 40% higher than existing subsonic airframes, you would have a game changer. But that’s always been the challenge.

Who knows, maybe the technology now exists to attempt a successful hypersonic manned aircraft. I for one would welcome it as I find current aircraft are becoming insufferably boring. OEMs churn out one bland subsonic twin jet after another, just wringing a few more knots out of a few less gallons of gas with new avionics etc. I was supposed to be living on one of those cool Gerry O’Neill space colonies at this point!

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  • $\begingroup$ The problem with high speed air travel is that it doesn't do anything about all the time you're not travelling at high speed: the hours spent going through check-in & security, boarding, taxiing, possibly going through customs & immigration, waiting for your luggage... $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 20 '18 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ For short commuter routes yes. However for an LAX to Sydney route, flying at Mach 6-8 and making the trip in an hour and a half versus 17 hours in a conventional sub sonic aircraft that does take a whack out of the travel time. $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Jul 20 '18 at 17:08
  • $\begingroup$ But how much demand is there for those really long routes? Even with say New York to London, ground time can easily be more than flying at cruise speed time. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 21 '18 at 16:08
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    $\begingroup$ BIG demand. Do you want to sit in an airline seat for 8-20 hours or 1-3 hours? You take your pick. People will pay good money (but not excessive) for the latter. $\endgroup$ – Carlo Felicione Jul 21 '18 at 16:41

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