Hypersonic jet: just one project to get you there faster


In this July 17, 2009 photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, an X-51A WaveRider hypersonic flight test vehicle is uploaded to an Air Force Flight Test Center B-52 for fit testing at Edwards Air Force Base. Four scramjet-powered Waveriders were built for the Air Force. The Los Angeles Times says the unmanned X-51 WaveRider is expected to reach Mach 6 _ or about 3,600 mph _ Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, when it's dropped by a B-52 bomber and takes flight off the Southern California coast near Point Mugu. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Chad Bellay) (Chad Bellay/AP)
August 14, 2012

The world is getting smaller and moving faster, leaving many unsatisfied with the time it still takes to get anywhere these days. That’s why there’s been so much buzz around the X-51A Waverider — a hypersonic jet being tested Tuesday that is theoretically capable of going six times the speed of sound.

The jet is just one avenue of high-tech, high-speed transit floated over the years; here’s a look at it and other projects hatched in the name of speed and where they stand today.

X-51A Waverider: As The Washington Post’s Emi Kolawole reported, the plane was developed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in conjunction with private companies including Boeing and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. The plane achieves its Mach-6 speeds by riding its own shockwave, the Post reported, and could ideally get passengers from New York to London in under an hour. VentureBeat reports that there’s already a company, EADS, looking into using hypersonic technology in commercial flights.

Concorde: The original high-speed commercial flight, Concorde flights, was famous for transporting passengers from New York to Paris in just three and a half hours. The planes flew for nearly 28 years, but the high cost of travel and the noise level associated with its Mach-2 flights grounded the plane in 2003.

As The Associated Press reported at the time, many were sad to see the flights end.

“Many Britons expressed pride in the technological achievement the Concorde embodied but sadness that its days in the skies were ending without a supersonic successor to take its place,” read an article on the plane’s last flight.

Maglev trains: New York to D.C. in an hour may not be as good a time value as New York to London, but it’d still be plenty fast for travelers looking for an alternative to flights. As The Washington Post’s Catherine Ho reported, a small, privately owned Washington company is looking at creating a Maglev train that could do just that. Working with the company that operates Japan’s super-speedy Shinkansen, The Northeast Maglev has proposed connecting Washington, New York, Baltimore, Wilmington and Philadelphia with trains that average at least 139 miles per hour.

As Ho reported, the project is still “in its infancy.”

High-speed rail: A little further along in the process is the prospect of high-speed rail, as proposed by Amtrak. Train-lovers — and those who idolize other country’s rail systems — have long held the hope that high-speed rail will take hold in the United States as it has in Europe and Japan. As Ho reported, Amtrak has a plan to introduce high-speed rail to the Northeast by 2040 in a $151 billion proposal introduced last month.

California recently approved a high-speed rail project — one that the San Jose Mercury News reports is the most expensive project in the state’s history. The California Senate passed the first $8 billion of the project on July 6, by one vote.

Related stories:

Hypersonic craft X-51A put to the test

Washington to New York City in 60 minutes by train

VentureBeat: SFO to JFK in less than an hour? It could happen.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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