- Supersonic planes are airplanes that can fly at supersonic speeds. This means they can travel faster than the speed of sound, or Mach number 1.
- Supersonic planes were invented in the second half of the twentieth century for research and military purposes.
- Many companies, like Virgin Galactic and Venus Aerospace, are still making supersonic planes today for both military and commercial passenger use.
The idea of supersonic planes was first researched in the 1940s, just after WWII. French and British governments brought this technology forward in what was to become the Concorde in 1969’s first flight.
From the beginning, there were issues that made the entire endeavor seem fruitless, culminating with a crash that killed all 109 on board and 4 on the ground. The Russian version of the Concorde, the Tupelov TU-144, was plagued by the same issues, with two crashes and high fuel costs leading to the discontinuation of its production.
With all the controversy and issues, what supersonic planes are still being made today?
We’ll answer that and give you a rundown of the speeds that can be expected from these newer versions. It’s key to note here that of all the new supersonic passenger planes being developed today, although being purchased by airlines in advance, with the exception of Virgin Galactic’s Unity, none are in commercial use as of this writing.
But don’t look the other way for long. The interest in supersonic travel is back on the table!
You may also notice that our list contains speeds that are well beyond supersonic and pass Mach 5 into hypersonic, pushing the boundaries of material and technology. Let’s get to the list and check out the new generation of super-fast flights!
Virgin Galactic VSS Unity, Top Speed: Mach 1.9
Virgin Galactic’s Unity takes the number one spot on our list for the simple fact that they are one of the few that have successfully launched and landed a supersonic flight with passengers on board. The passenger list included Virgin’s owner Richard Branson plus five others who completed its mission on July 11, 2021.
Virgin Galactic is focused more on passenger travel than its well-known competitors like SpaceX and Blue Origin, both of which concentrate more on space cargo and satellites than people moving and space tourism.
Virgin Galactic VSS Unity: At A Glance
|Top Speed||Mach 1.9|
|Planned Completion||2021 Successful Flight|
Venus Aerospace Stargazer, Top Speed: Mach 9
The vision of Venus Aerospace is a plane that can “take you around the world and be back home for dinner.” That’s an interesting endeavor, to say the least.
Like the other members of this club of the future, the Stargazer has a zero-emissions footprint and loses some of the sonic boom. One way to achieve this is to slow down over land, taking off and landing at subsonic speeds, and then accelerating to Mach 9 when altitude has been reached.
Although Venus is the new kid on the block startup, they will be testing unmanned flights from Spaceport Houston beginning this year.
Stargazer will have the ability to take off from a normal airport and travel around the globe in mere hours. The projected passenger capacity is 12, with each having a large window to take in the high-altitude views available.
Venus has not released the type of fuel the Stargazer will use but assures that the aircraft will have a zero-carbon footprint.
Venus Aerospace: At A Glance
|Top Speed||Mach 9|
Beijing Lingkong Tianzing, Top Speed: Mach 6
The Beijing-based Space Transportation (Lingkong Tianzing in Chinese) company has joined the race to carry passengers point-to-point in record times. At this stage in the game, although information on the project is limited, it seems they are ahead of some of their competitors.
Space Transportation’s design uses a winged dual rocket with a vertical takeoff, then the plane is released to continue the suborbital flight and finally lands vertically on a tripod set on the rear of the aircraft.
Space Transportation: At A Glance
|Product||Tianxing 1 & 2|
|Top Speed||Mach 6|
|Planned Completion||2025 (crewed flight)|
NASA and Lockheed Martin X-59 Quesst, Top Speed: Mach 1.42
Military contractors and NASA are getting back in the game with a new “quiet supersonic” model of their own.
The X-59 Quesst technology seeks to divert the shock waves to soften the sonic booms over populated areas. If successful, these low-boom planes could eliminate the FAAs restrictions on supersonic planes flying over land and open up routes that the Concorde and other aircraft faced.
Through the ASAB division of NASA, the space agency is working on technology for passenger planes that could bring supersonic planes back to the commercial field.
X-59 Quesst: At A Glance
|Top Speed||Mach 1.4|
|Planned Completion||2023 (tests over civilian areas)|
Exosonic, Top Speed: Mach 1.8
This USAF-contracted start-up is focusing on the sole purpose of supersonic passenger aircraft. Their Mach 1.8, 70-seat design is slated for transport-only purposes and is being considered for modification as the next version of Air Force One by the U.S. government.
Testing was done in 2021 with scale models in wind tunnels, and the aircraft is scheduled for certification by 2029. The Exosonic design is also a low-boom version to allow flight over civilian areas.
Exosonic: At A Glance
|Headquarters||Los Angeles, California|
|Product||Supersonic Airliner/possible Air Force One|
|Top Speed||Mach 1.8|
EON nxt-01, Top Speed: Mach 1.9
Although EON Aerospace may seem a long way from hitting their goal of providing supersonic service by 2029 based on what they’ve produced so far — fascinating 3D pictures of their proposed aircraft — founder Priven Reddy’s plans are worth taking a look at.
An envisioned zero-carbon, 65-88 seat, Mach 1.9 supersonic airliner capable of use by private owners and airlines alike is a tall order from pictures to product in just 7 years.
EON Aerospace makes our list as “the one to watch out for” in the near future.
EON Aerospace nxt-01: At A Glance
|Top Speed||Mach 1.9|
Boom Supersonic Overture, Top Speed: Mach 1.7
Boom is one of the companies on the list that is moving into the future fast. They have made a deal with United Airlines for 15 of their supersonic planes to be put into service by 2029. Boom plans to cut the time of 500 global routes in half and carry 65-88 passengers to those destinations by the end of the decade.
From our research, it appears that with deals such as that with United and American Airlines for purchases of 20 additional planes each, Boom is on schedule and has a viable product.
Another project that puts Boom in the front of the pack to get their planes in service soon is the Boom XB-1 Baby Boom, a one-third-scale version of the Overture that goes into testing this year.
The overture comes in with comparable speed and seating to other members on our list, but the one feature that seems to set it apart, at least for now, is its range of 4,250 miles. That’s approximately two-thirds the distance from New York to Beijing, nonstop.
Boom Supersonic Overture: At a Glance
|Headquarters||Centennial Airport, Dove Valley, Colorado|
|Top Speed||Mach 1.7|
Hermeus Quarterhorse, Top Speed: Mach 5
This Georgia-based company has big plans, starting with its prototype, the Quarterhorse, scheduled to fly in 2023, and the Halcyon supersonic passenger plane is on the table.
The full progression of Hemeus’ plan is from Quarterhorse to Darkhorse, and then on to the passenger airliner, Halcyon. This is a long road to get their commercial plans in service and will depend on the performance of their hybrid engine that uses two mature technologies — the turbojet and ramjet models.
The turbojet system would be used under Mach 3 and the ramjet can function up to Mach 6 and would set the record for an air-breathing plane, currently held by the Lockheed XR-71 Blackbird military surveillance plane.
Hermeus Qurterhorse: At A Glance
|Top Speed||Mach 5|
Summing it Up
We’ve touched on a few of the newest supersonic planes in the works for 2022. With a split between military and commercial passenger use, the future is going to be something to see. Imagine taking a friend to lunch at a fine French restaurant (in France) and coming back to tell friends all about it at happy hour.
Since the final flight of the Concorde in 2003, the long wait for high-speed travel to come back strong with safer and more environmentally friendly versions is over. With the promises of some of these companies, the price of a ticket will be available to almost everyone who has the courage to get on board.
If you’re interested in all things speed, space, and flight, check out some other articles:
- SpaceX vs. Boeing: Which is the Best Spaceflight Company?
- The 4 Fastest Drones on the Market Today
- Space X’s Falcon Heavy Rocket: Specs, Size, History, and More