Virgin Galactic is one step closer in the race to realize supersonic flight.
The delta-wing aircraft has already passed its Mission Concept Review (MCR)
when it was revealed. A non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been signed with Rolls-Royce to design and develop engines to power the aircraft.
The Anglo-French Concorde could travel at Mach 2, but since it retired in 2003 the gap has remained open for the last 17 years.
A number of private and government initiatives aimed at developing the next generation of supersonic passenger and transport aircraft has been ongoing with no successful contender yet flying. Now Virgin Galactic has entered the race.
Virgin Galactic has been working with NASA to outline several critical parameters for the new aircraft.
The new proposed aircraft will travel at Mach 3 (2,225 mph, 3,581 km/h), and will follow a similar design to the Concorde with a delta wing, but cruising higher at 60,000 feet (18,000 m).
Passenger numbers will be between 9 -19 passengers, with first and business class configurations as per client’s needs.
Virgin Galactic will now begin work on finalizing the aircraft design and specific systems. One of the biggest challenges is working out which materials will be used for construction as the aircraft will be operating at extreme limits.
Thermal management needs to be taken into account, as high speed builds up heat due to air friction and extreme heights can plummet well below freezing levels.
Considerations yet to be taken into account include such challenges as to how the aircraft will be maintained, as well as its noise, emissions, and economics.
Photo: Virgin Galactic
Alongside the aircraft announcement, Virgin Galactic revealed that it would look to work with Rolls Royce, to collaborate on engine development for the new aircraft. Rolls Royce previously built the Olympus 593 with the French company Snecma that powered the Concorde.
“We are excited to complete the Mission Concept Review and unveil this initial design concept of a high-speed aircraft, which we envision as blending safe and reliable commercial travel with an unrivaled customer experience,” says George Whitesides, Chief Space Officer, Virgin Galactic. “We are pleased to collaborate with the innovative team at Rolls-Royce as we strive to develop sustainable, cutting-edge propulsion systems for the aircraft, and we are pleased to be working with the FAA to ensure our designs can make a practical impact from the start. We have made great progress so far, and we look forward to opening up a new frontier in high-speed travel.”
Photo: Virgin Galactic
In addition to being able to fly long-range passenger routes and provide other services, the new concept would land and take off like conventional subsonic aircraft and be able to operate with today’s airports and international airspaces.