Few developments in air travel have had a similarly far-reaching impact on the industry and its image than the introduction of the Concorde airplane in 1969. The supersonic Concorde was a symbol of Anglo-French cooperation, the West’s answer to the Soviet Union’s Tupolev Tu-144, and also a symbol of luxury and innovation in flight. Although the Concorde saw service as a commercial airliner for only 27 years (from 1976 to 2003) the iconic plane still captures the imagination of aviation enthusiasts and engineers alike. While there is no longer a Concorde in service today, its legacy is alive in well. So much so, that in British English a game-changing innovation is referred to as a “Concorde moment.”
While the original Concorde airliners are now museum pieces, the demand for and appeal of a Concorde-type aircraft has never left. On the contrary, the need for aircrafts that can quickly connect people and places along with the unbroken appeal of supersonic flight directly translates into the development of another supersonic commercial plane.
Currently, there are already two supersonic aircraft in development. One project, the N+2, which involves Lockheed Martin and NASA, is developing an 80 passenger supersonic plane that would be able to cut U.S. cross-country travel times in half while also being 100 times quieter than the Concorde and all but eliminating the “sonic boom” caused by supersonic travel. Another project, the Airbus Aerion AS2, is designed as a 12-seat supersonic plane exclusively for business travel that, although it doesn’t address the sonic boom issue, offers increased fuel efficiency and can fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo in 6 hours.
These supersonic planes are still an estimated 8-10 years from production, but the fact is that Airbus and Boeing are no longer the only choice in the global airplane marketplace and other aircraft manufacturers might beat them to the finish line. Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation and China’s Comac (Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China) are rapidly expanding their production scope and are gaining ground on Airbus and Boeing. For emerging aircraft manufacturers the development of a commercial supersonic plane might just be the big engineering and marketing stunt they are looking for to establish themselves as global contenders.
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