NASA Wants to Make Flying at Mach 1 a Little Greener

supersonic green machine image
Image via NASA

With what looks a bit more like a giant lawn dart than an airplane, NASA has a vision for a quieter, more environmentally friendly future for supersonic air travel. Called the Supersonic Green Machine, the airplane was designed by Lockheed Martin to correct a few of the problems that limited its faster-than-sound predecessor, the Concorde--such as that pesky sonic boom issue. But in addition to that, the concept plane promises to emit less carbon, meaning supersonic flight could be a bit greener too, that is, if you ever needed to head somewhere traveling at Mach 1.When the Concorde jet began its 27 years of operation in 1976, supersonic flight seemed plagued with practical limitations. For one, the sonic boom produced when the jet broke the sound barrier concerned environmentalists and bothered folks on the ground, which meant that the Concorde could typically only travel at full speed while flying over the ocean.

Just as the Concorde wasn't a quiet plane, it certainly wasn't very fuel efficient either--and this in comparison to traditional passenger jets which don't have the greatest eco-friendly track record. A Boeing 747, for example, gets 91 passenger-miles per gallon whereas the Concorde got just 14.

But, according to NASA, the specially designed Supersonic Green Machine could solve these problems.

Simulations show that the concept-plane's "inverted-V" engine-under wing configuration dramatically reduces the level of the sonic boom, perhaps to the point where could fly over populated areas without bothering people or animals too much. The new engine design would also increase the plane's fuel efficiency, says NASA, meaning it could emit far less polluting greenhouse gas.

For those who might want to take a ride on the Supersonic Green Machine, you have about 25 years to plan your trip. According to the space agency, the aircraft could enter service in the 2030-2035 timeframe, if it makes it past the concept phase, that is.

Until then, I guess we'll just have to take it slow.

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