NY to London in 2 hours?! Gulf investors in talks to launch new era of supersonic jets

Published March 6th, 2014 - 01:00 GMT

Gulf investors and a British firm are in talks for the funding of the development of the next generation of supersonic jets, which when launched in 2023 could fly passengers from New York to London in two hours.

UK firm Hypermach has formally been developing the SonicStar aircraft since 2008 and while it has initially been funded by wealthy backers, it is now in talks with potential Gulf partners to fund the building of a prototype within the next decade.

The SonicStar jet will be designed to reach speeds of up to Mach 3.6, which is 2,740 miles per hour, and will fly at heights of around 18,300 meters. The propulsion is projected to be 30 percent more fuel efficient than the Rolls Royce Olympus 593 engine which ran on the Concorde supersonic jet and, once complete, it will reduce transatlantic travel to two hours and could manage flights from Sydney to the US in around five hours.

“We have several, five or six, fairly interesting and serious discussions with geographic locations... In Abu Dhabi we have had talks with financial institutions and funds there... also Qatar and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as well,” Richard Lugg, CEO of Hypermach, told Arabian Business.

“We are going to be in Abu Dhabi presenting at the Global Aerospace Summit there in April... we have been working the area since 2009. Ideally we are looking for a partner who will see the long-term view - at least a decade plus - to finance this project and scale to a manufacturing scenario, with viable prototypes. We are positioned with the capability to bring that kind of expertise into the region or country and build something from the ground up,” he added.

Lugg estimated that the project will need around $2-3 billion in funding to get it to a prototype stage, but he revealed it is already advancing and moving forward.

Engine testing began in 2005 and 2006 and its initial findings led to a contract from the US Air Force and Rolls Royce. “With projects like this, and the risk and time, we build small first and then build full scale... On the airframe side we have been working on the design of SonicStar (and) we start tests in the wind tunnel in the States this spring,” he said.

Lugg certainly has the credentials to pull off such a feat. His CV includes stints working on the Space Shuttle and cruise missiles for the US Air Force and he boasts the likes of NASA, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Rolls Royce as previous clients. He has worked in engine and aircraft design and has been involved in projects focusing on developing composites, power electronics, alternative energy and nano-scale heating and cooling systems.

Abu Dhabi has already invested in Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. The Abu Dhabi government’s Aabar Investments bought a 35 percent stake in Virgin Galactic in 2009 for $300m and the Virgin Group founder told reporters last month he believes his space travel company will one day rival Emirates Airline in offering long-distance travel by air.

Branson said the first commercial flight – with himself, his wife and their two children on board - is expected to launch within a few months. He expected regular passenger services to be in place in about 12 years, offering a real alternative to aeroplane travel.

“I think it really will be the start of a whole new space era,” Branson, who founded airlines Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia, said in Dubai.

“I think one day we may even give Emirates a run for their money. Our spaceship is built in the same shape as an aeroplane; 10 years from now I think we’re going to be going at 18,000 miles per hour around the world, so maybe one hour from London to Singapore.

Flights on board a Virgin Galactic spaceship – of which the company has two at the moment – will initially cost $250,000 and the eccentric entrepreneur claimed it would take “about three years” for the company to make a profit.

Rumors had circulated that Dubai’s Emirates Airline might resurrect supersonic travel in the form of the once beloved Concorde, but this was recently dismissed by management as too costly and hazardous to the environment to operate.

Built by the British and the French for transatlantic travel, Concorde was the darling of the aviation world when it made its debut in March 1969, but was retired in November 2003, with Air France and British Airways citing low passenger interest following a July 2000 crash and high maintenance costs.

“Concorde did it but it was done poorly as the technology wasn’t there to make it efficiently viable. The issues with sonic boom and the environment had to be addressed first and foremost,” Lugg said.

“An invention needed to be created to go to the next level on the propulsion side... Then we will have an aircraft that could change the world and how we operate for air transport on the civil side... Ideally we would like to have the project in one region, maybe the Middle East, with one government or investment arm... one location would be ideal,” he added. 

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