The United States Patent and Trademark Office (“PTO”) has granted a patent to planemaker Airbus, also known as the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, for an “ultra-rapid air vehicle and related method for aerial locomotion” that is designed to fly over four times the speed of sound and approximately 12 ½ miles higher than conventional aircraft. The proposed speed of Mach 4.5, or 3,418 miles per hour, would be reached in a way that eliminates the problem of the sonic boom which gave the Concorde so much trouble. The “ultra-rapid” plane could complete a journey from New York to London in one hour, a flight that normally lasts seven to eight hours.
The proposed plane would reach its extreme speed by utilizing a combination of three sets of engines: turbojets for taxiing, takeoff and landing; a single rocket motor for its rapid acceleration; and ramjets for the plane’s high-altitude cruising. The rocket motor and turbojets are designed to fold into the body of the plane when not being used. When the rocket motor fires, it sends the aircraft almost vertical in order to accelerate to supersonic speeds. The plane also has flexible fins to allow for a greater aerodynamic design and it would run on hydrogen and liquid oxygen.
The problem of the sonic boom, restrictive Federal Aviation Administration regulations and the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s made the high speed Concorde program unfeasible. It ended up as a very small fleet that only flew with British Airways and Air France before finally shutting down in 2003. The new patent granted to Airbus states that the “noise has been the main limit, if not the only one, preventing the opening of lines other than transatlantic ones for the Concorde aircraft.”
Now, Airbus claims that the sonic boom problem is all but eliminated to a new design. Because the plane flies near vertically, like a rocket, while accelerating to supersonic speed, the only noise would be directly below the plane. The sound energy would dissipate in a circle around the plane, parallel to the ground, and therefore the shockwave would not hit the ground. The patent states that the noise “is confined to the vicinity of the airport and lasts for roughly less than one minute.”
Airbus files for hundreds of patents of year, many based on research and development concepts and ideas that are in the very beginning of conceptualization. Many of the patents do not develop into fully developed technology. This is likely the case of the ultra-rapid plane, and we may never see the Airbus supersonic take flight.