Paris: European aerospace giant EADS has announced plans to develop a jet that will make hypersonic a reality in the near future.
The concept project has been named the ZEHST (Zero Emission High Speed Transport). An unmanned demonstrator of the hypersonic jet is expected to be ready by 2020; however, actual commercial flights could take another 30 years. EADS is the maker of the Airbus.
While today’s planes fly in the stratosphere at about a height of 10 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, the ZEHST will cruise at an altitude of 32 kilometers.
The ZEHST is being designed to carry about 50 to 100 people at one time.
EADS says ZEHST would have a maximum acceleration of 1.2G or 5029 km/h, the sort of speed mankind has never experienced before - the kind of speed that will take passengers from Paris to Tokyo in less than 2.5 hours or from New Delhi to Mumbai in less than 15 minutes.
The plane will take off from regular runways using a regular turbofan engine, before rocket boosters would kick-in to start a sharp ascent, sending the plane soaring above the atmosphere.
Ramjet engines, currently used in missiles, will then propel the plane up to an altitude of 32 km. The technological marvel will glide on descent and later turbofans will reignite to enable landing.
Interestingly, EADS’ chief technical officer Jean Botti feels that ZEHST has no novelty, “It is all things that have been created before.”
Botti is also averse to any comparison with the Concorde. “It is not a Concorde but it looks like a Concorde, showing that aerodynamics of the 1960s were very smart. But with ZEHST you don’t pollute, you’re in the stratosphere.”
Indeed ZEST would be non-polluting by today’s standards. It will use engines fueled by biofuel made from sea-weed to take-off and will switch over to its rocket engines at high altitudes.
The rocket fuel will be (nearly) pure hydrogen burning in oxygen, providing more bang for the weighty buck, while contributing no pollution whatsoever. The only exhaust will be water vapour.
The group hopes to avoid the supersonic boom and pollution the Concorde was notorious for.
Surely, EADS’ plan is a welcome move as commercially viable hypersonic travel has never been a success, but the fact remains that it’s time to switch over to the next level.