Boeing concept aircraft
Credit: Courtesy of Boeing

Fifteen years after the last flight of the Concorde, Boeing wants to bring back supersonic travel — to the extreme.

At the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Aviation conference in Atlanta this week, the aircraft manufacturer revealed a preliminary design for a “passenger-carrying hypersonic vehicle” that would be capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean in two hours or the Pacific in three.

Hypersonic is even faster than supersonic: Hypersonic speeds exceed Mach 5 while supersonic only needs to be faster than Mach 1 (the speed of sound). Boeing’s hypersonic aircraft would fly at Mach 5 — just under 3,900 miles per hour — and at a cruise altitude of 95,000 feet. The faster speeds would, according to Boeing, allow airlines to operate same-day return flights across the oceans.

A Boeing spokesperson told Travel + Leisure that flying at Mach 5 would make it possible to reach most locations on Earth in one to three hours. For example, it could take two hours to fly between New York City and London, or three between Los Angeles and Tokyo. (Current flight times are 7 and 11 hours, respectively.)

The plane could operate for military or commercial passengers — but it’s unlikely to be in service any time soon. Boeing announced a potential timeline of putting the hypersonic aircraft in flight by the late 2030s to 2040s.

“We have tons more work to do, but we have some very neat ideas,” Boeing’s chief scientist for hypersonics, Kevin Bowcutt, told Aviation Week.

Even though the hypersonic concept is decades away, studying and working on the technology is useful for the aircraft manufacturer today. “By looking decades ahead at what could be possible, we are smarter about what innovations and technologies we should be exploring now,” the spokesperson told T+L.

And Boeing isn't alone in planning for a supersonic future: Aerion Corporation, a company based in Nevada and backed by Airbus, is planning a supersonic business jet, capable of reaching Mach 1.5. The plane would be able to carry 12 passengers and is expected to be ready for flight in 2023. And NASA is working on supersonic jets that could be ready as soon as 2021.