I don’t care what class you travel in. It’s all the same; slow.
LHR-JFK takes 7 hours and 40 mins. 38 years ago; it took just 3 hours and 20 mins.
While I appreciate nowadays we have a phone without a cord and vacuum cleaner without a bag, when it comes to air travel it feels like we are going back in time. Indeed we can hardly keep up with the date line.
A colleague of mine recently recounted the glamorous champagne filled jaunt over the pond for a spot of lunch before returning the same evening. Yet here I am chugging along barely over 500mph…You could be forgiven for thinking we’re living through the technological revolution. Who can blame the kids of the jet age thinking we would be whizzing around in flying cars by 2020. Pigs might.
But whose fault is that?
Two dealbreakers brought the concorde’s wheels back down to the ground forever and one of them was us; the punter. Turns out we don’t want to fly faster, we just want to fly cheaper. The airline business of today is all about efficiency, not speed. Efficiency means profits and why, when the majority seem pretty happy with an additional in-flight movie to while away the hours, would an airline want to incur the extra cost in fuel for a few hours saved? That, and the fact that the sonic boom was inconveniently not permitted over US airspace, kinda put a nail in the weekend jaunt to New York – for those who could afford it.
So do we just give up on the dream? Are we now doomed to appreciate far flung places virtually via Google Earth with an Oculus Rift strapped to our heads?
Sonic Star may be a promising step, it claims to be able to fly at twice the speed of Concorde, with a maiden flight set for 2021 (hopefully its build quality isn’t reflected by its website). It’s got UKTI backing and it gets around the physics of the sonic boom by incorporating low boom technology. Sadly though, it also looks little more than a pitch and a concept right now. To get it off the ground you can “Get involved from as little as £100”, I think I would rather bet my £100 that it won’t take off.
Then there’s the XCOR Aerospace; why fly through the sky when you can leave the atmosphere altogether? The intention is to make point-to-point space travel available by 2030. It will take off and land like a conventional plane, but cruise at Mach 3.5 and could get you from New York to Tokyo in 90 minutes. Ambitious though- the dates have been pushed back several times already and they still have the commercial mistakes of Concorde to get around a second time.
On the other hand, maybe the sky is the limit and I’ve actually got high speed travel all wrong. While the HS2 project in the UK is remarkable so far only for generating more negative press than our existing trains – other countries are having a lot more success. In the time we’ve spent getting upset and wringing our hands over the logistics of it all, China has built 6,000 miles of HST network and, separately, introduced their first Maglev train. The trains are levitated over the tracks and propelled using magnets, saving the wear and tear caused by operating traditional HSTs. Currently the Maglev in China travels at around 310mph but their program for improvement is fast moving – 600mph to be exact.
MIT engineer Frank Davidson- who oversaw the original channel tunnel- is now dreaming of a tube for Maglev trains under the Atlantic, getting us from London to New York in 90 minutes.
And let’s not forget everyone’s hero; Elon Musk and his San Fran to LA ‘Hyperloop’. It might only be in the conceptual stages, but if it becomes more than an idea, it aims to travel at twice the speed of a jet plane, with much lower power requirements, safer and immune to adverse weather. Planes or trains, it seems the future never looks quite like we think it’s going to, although some are better at predicting it than others.
I guess you could say flying faster isn’t really all that progressive now; it isn’t innovative if it’s already been done. Sure, using the Concorde trajectory, at this stage we should be jetting around the world in high speed jets in mere hours – but why make an incremental and unsustainable gain now when you can create something that’s fundamentally better in the future?
Until then, there’s always Google…