Boeing has provided a glimpse of the future with the release of an image of its hypersonic passenger plane concept at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference in Atlanta this week. The concept image depicts a civilian aircraft capable of traveling at over five times the speed of sound is intended to give the public some idea of what air travel could be like 20 or 30 years from now.

At the moment, hypersonic air travel is still in its infancy, with its only current examples being spacecraft leaving or returning to Earth, or experimental airframes for civilian or military research. However, it is a technology that shows significant promise and Boeing is interested not only in developing the basic mechanics of hypersonic aircraft, but also in exploring possible applications.

According to Boeing, the passenger aircraft concept could have commercial or military uses, but is just one of many concepts covering a wide range of applications the company is exploring for aircraft capable of speeds of Mach 5 (3,223 knots, 3,709 mph, 5,969 km/h) and above. No details about the concept were released, but it does show a passenger craft capable of carrying about 32 passengers plus crew, judging by the number of windows.

The hull is extremely streamlined with a needle nose similar to that of the supersonic Concorde, a fuselage that is apparently shaped to minimize the dreaded sonic boom, as well as an advanced delta wing configuration. In addition, the length of the aft section suggests that it may be fueled by cryogenic hydrogen.

All of this is pure prognostication, but it isn't necessarily a flight of fancy. Civilian aircraft very often make technological advances years ahead of the military. The Concorde, for example, was cruising at supersonic speeds for many hours at a time when most military craft could only sprint above the speed of sound for a few minutes.

"We're excited about the potential of hypersonic technology to connect the world faster than ever before," says Kevin Bowcutt, senior technical fellow and chief scientist of hypersonics. "Boeing is building upon a foundation of six decades of work designing, developing and flying experimental hypersonic vehicles, which makes us the right company to lead the effort in bringing this technology to market in the future."

Source: Boeing