back to article Hypersonic hydrogen airliner to bitchslap Concorde

The European Union (EU) has agreed further funding for a European civil hypersonics project whose goal is to achieve passenger flights from Brussels to Sydney in "two to four hours", at speeds of Mach 4 to 8. The now-retired Concorde was capable of only a little better than Mach 2. The first phase of the so-called Long-term …


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  1. Mark

    Why is it that?

    Future aircraft designs always closely resemble something out of Captain Scarlet?

  2. Frank Bough
    Black Helicopters

    I'm sure that the Americans

    ...will find a way to stop this making any money. Too dangerous to land at a US airport, probably. A Boeing version, on the other hand...

  3. Anonymous Coward

    I'll be home a little late dear.....

    ....just popping across to Sydney for lunch.

    Just think - it will take you longer to get to the airport than it will to fly halfway round the world!

    It'll be nice (probably) if it happens. Though one wonders whether it is technically feasible. Mach 5 is almost twice as fast as current spy planes I believe. And if a terrorist takes this baby over you can't shoot it down because no missiles fly that fast, shirley?

  4. Anonymous John

    Super Hypersonic International Transport?

    Er, perhaps not.

  5. Tony Humphreys

    4 and a half hours eh

    So it will take just 4 and a half hours to get from the gate at Heathrow to the sunny shores of Bondai Beach.

    As is typical with the good old british (spanish owned) arports it will take just as long from check in to duty free. Assuming that bottle of coke is chucked so you can by a new shiny double-the-price one on the other side.

    Thats before good old Gordon finds a way of taxing it to a less restrictive country - say China.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Jeff Tracy is on standby .....

    Looks like the plane that featured in the first ever Thunderbirds episode - 'Trapped In The Sky' - featuring an atomic powered airliner. Please tell us it's really hydrogen that's powering this and not some of Windscale's spare Plutonium!

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Why is it also that

    Gerry Anderson got there first not only with Mark's Captain Scarlet look-a-like but more like Thunderbird's Fireflash

    A notable point about that first episode was that there was some in-flight espionage aimed at bringing down Fireflash with bombs planted by 'The Hood', an amazingly arabic looking chappie.

    Did Gerry Anderson tell the future again?

  8. Geoff Johnson


    Cor, transatlantic flights could take less time than the airport check-in.

  9. tranquil

    @ Mark

    Because vehicles in Captain Scarlet were designed by traveling to the future and observing aircraft design.

  10. Jamie Kitson
    Thumb Down

    Wrong Shape

    IANAAD (I am not an aero-dynamicist) but surely the plane in that picture is the wrong shape, IIRC super sonic planes should have the same cross sectional area throughout the body as much as possible, that one is shaped like a wedge.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Already done back in the '60's...

    Is it my imagination, or is this baby reminiscent of the "Fireflash" airliner from Thunderbirds. Gerry Anderson ahead of his time again?

  12. Matthew Smith
    Thumb Up

    Thats out of Thunderbirds

    Its the Fireflash, from the pilot episode. Only that was driven by nuclear engines. I hope this one is more reliable.

  13. Martin

    Energy source

    They just need to setup a refueling stop in Iceland. Make the hydrogen there, since they have all that "Free" geothermal energy.

  14. Ashley Stevens


    Flight International says 10m Euro. El Reg says 10bn. That's a big difference.

  15. Sceptical Bastard

    Under Rule 8, I propose...


    "CHUTNEY (Civil Hypersonic Useful Technology Not Employable Yet)"

    If the prototype explodes in a Hindenberg-like fireball will it be a LAPTOP (Longterm Advanced Propulsion Technology for Obliterating Passengers)?

    Or (with a nod to its shape and energy) if it flies but makes huge losses (a la Concorde) it might be a DESKTOP (Dangerous but Environmentally Sound Kinetic Tube Operating Pointlessly)

    PS *Stop* using 'bitchslap' all the time, vultures. Stop it. Now.

  16. David Lester

    Fireball XL5


    It's not Captain Scarlet, that's Fireball XL5 (another great Gerry Anderson adventure in SuperMarionation)!

  17. chris

    I don't know what's worse

    I don't know what's worse, flying in a plane powered by a steam engine ("industrial hydrogen made by steam reforming with natural gas") or flying in a plane powered by a rubbish poor man's sports car from the 80's (Scimitar)....

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hotol Mk II

    'Ello, ello, ello, this looks vaguely familar - why it's a revamped version of lan Bond's Skylon which was a revamped version of Alan Bond's Hotol - the British space plane that was going to revolutionise travel in the 1980s.

    The clever bit about Hotol was that its engine could be reconfigured in flight to switch from low-altitude air breathing to a true rocket. The not so clever bit about Hotol was that it was British and therefore doomed by lack of funding and vision.

    Third time lucky folks?

  19. David Lester

    Where's the RoTM angle icon?

    That's Fireflash, sorry image at

  20. Tim


    By the time this is ready you'll need to provide a tissue sample just to be allowed to buy a ticket to the US.

    The Far East (including China), India, Europe and Australia will provide a big enough market to support such a plane while the US slowly collapses inwards.

  21. Webster Phreaky
    Dead Vulture

    What a STUPID headline ... Register sinks to Juvenile Quips

    This headline only proves that the English language and creative literary writing is now only safe in the hands of Canada, US and India. Good work "buggering" journalism, "dim-brits". Grow up, it isn't cute.

  22. b166er


    do a little dance for me ;)

    @Frank Bough, and after public funding, sell it to BA for £1

  23. Mark Ireland-Spicer
    Thumb Up


    I was actually thinking more of Firefly from Thunderbirds!!

  24. Colin Millar

    Scimitar engines!!

    They are going to strap a 4-wheeled robin reliant to each wing for mach 4?

    They must have advanced the timing a bit.

  25. A. Lewis

    But why?

    What am I missing here? Why do they make such a deal out of going subsonic while over populated areas? Ok I can understand people not wanting sonic booms while the plane is a few hundred feet up just after takeoff. But surely there's going to be 10,000 feet at least between the 'plane and the ground for most of the flight. Does it really make a difference on the ground how fast it's going?

  26. Joe

    For Ashley - cost

    The cost is €10bn. The €10m figure is the total tax on the €3000 ticket to Sydney. On the positive side most of us would only need a one way ticket.

    By the time this gets off the ground (pun intended) the septics will have made something similar, licensed it the the military, then banned the use of this technology in their airspace by anyone else in the world because they can.

  27. Tim Butterworth

    Climate change

    Nice to see that the EU isn't letting its eco-friendly policies get in the way of the development of an uncecessary technology that will only benefit the wealthy.

  28. Geoff Mackenzie

    @Colin Miller

    Yup, notice the Sabre gets a mention too - thought I was the only plastic pig fan but now you've outed yourself I might as well join in. :)

    (FYI, the 4-wheeled Reliant Robin-alike was the Kitten.)

    Who'd have thought an old 3 litre Ford engine would find its way into a supersonic airliner? Hope they've done the unleaded conversion or it'll be a bit of a throwback.

  29. Anonymous Coward


    So 4 1/2 hours to Australia. 4 1/2 days to the US.

  30. Chris Ellis


    Concorde still looks better, beautiful.

  31. Magellan

    Liquid Air Cycle Engine (LACE)

    The engine concept being described is called LACE, Liquid Air Cycle Engine.

  32. laird cummings
    Black Helicopters

    Another boondogle...

    Look at the size comparison between the A380 and the A2... Already there are major airports not able to handle the 380, and they want to build a monstrosity as big as the A2, and call it commercially viable? Hah! Pull the other one - it's got bells on. No, it's just the EU government funnelling yet more money under the table into the airline industry. I swear they're *trying* to make it easy for Boeing to win its WTO complaint.

  33. Kevin Campbell

    @ A. Lewis

    One would think that significant altitude would matter. However, on occasion the NASA space shuttle wings overhead during re-entry. It's a heckuva lot higher than 30,000 feet at that time and we still get the sonic boom.

    I could be wrong, but I think the dynamics change at hypersonic speeds. Correction, anyone?

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Similarities to B-58 Hustler and XB-70 Valkyrie

    I know this is only an early mock-up, but I was immediately struck by the similarities in the delta wing and engine placement of this jet to an early 1950's American super-sonic nuclear bomber jet known as the Convair B-58 Hustler. It looks like a super-stretched version. Also the forward canard on the fuselage reminds me of the design of another supersonic long range nuclear bomber from the early 60's known as the XB-70 aircraft so far advanced in its day that portions of its techology are still classified.

  35. Silas Humphreys
    Thumb Up

    Well, if they make it, it'll be a Good Thing overall.

    Not so much because of the plane itself, although it will be nice to cut the time spent trapped in a metal tube with Cat Piss Man (who may or may not have showered before the filght, but you can't tell because the stink is so deeply ingrained), but because it'll drive development of the engines, which as mentioned will be usable for a nice SSTO reusable spaceplane...

  36. Dave
    Thumb Down

    as Any Fule Kno

    This A2 thingy is nowhere near as aerodymically 'ambitious' as the 'Fireflash' in Thunderbirds - no triple bank of 'atom engines' sat atop a Y-form tailplane.

    Actually, this A2 thingy looks more like the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, which "gained a reputation as a 'flying coffin' and 'Witwenmacher' (Widowmaker) for their high accident rate. In Germany and Italy alone, more than 400 airplanes were lost in accidents" - bodes well!

  37. BoldMan
    Thumb Up

    Fireflash has a more impressive tail!

    Oooer missus, I just looked at that title again!

    It does look like a Gerry Anderson rip off - I think he should sue!!!

  38. Alex King

    @ Tim Butterworth

    Nice to see that you're not letting the article get in the way of some misinformed ranting.... (Hint: Runs on potentially zero-carbon hydrogen.)

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    Is this the Paris Hilton angle, or am I just old-fashioned?

  40. Alex

    the obvious question is...

    is it suitable for the school run?

  41. Anonymous Coward

    Serious downside

    I can see a very serious downside to being able to go from London to Sydney in 4.5 hours, it means we'll get even more Aussie and Kiwi bar tenders coming over and they'd be able to nip home for the weekend.

  42. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    re: Terrorists and Area Rule.

    "And if a terrorist takes this baby over you can't shoot it down because no missiles fly that fast"

    Any terrorist flying at 5M will miss his target.

    "super sonic planes should have the same cross sectional area throughout the body as much as possible, that one is shaped like a wedge."

    Not the same area but the one that changes smoothly over the length of the plane.

    But the area rule is most important during high transonic and low supersonic speeds. At M5 that won't be so important, I guess.

    Anyway, this picture is just a concept art - not an actual blueprint...

  43. Chris
    Thumb Down

    What is it with the planes?

    Why must it always be some sort of airplane? Heinlein, Clarke, and all the rest were writing about intercontinental ballistic rocket passenger service in the 50's. That should be able to get you from London to anywhere else in the world in about an hour and a half, give or take.


  44. Brian Miller

    Boeing? Supersonic? No way.

    No, Boeing has absolutely *no* plans to build any supersonic passenger jet. Our airlines want jets that are profitable. If all of you will remember, the Concorde were always subsidised by coach customers, rather like the first-class cabins on the Titanic were subsidised by the huddled masses in steerage.

    EU/Airbus wants to waste the money? Go for it. And have fun making the hydrogen to fly the thing. (Let's see, how many fields of solar cells will be needed in the cloudy UK for fuel production? Hmmm....) Or maybe it will only fly out of the south of France, where they have sunlight.

  45. Mark York

    To the tune of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

    Hypersonic hydrogen airliner to bitchslap Concorde

    Even though the cost of it is something quite enormous

    If you fly it fast enough, it might become explosive

    Hypersonic hydrogen airliner to bitchslap Concorde

    Um diddle um diddle um diddle ay

    Um diddle um diddle um diddle ay

  46. Anonymous Coward

    @ Frank

    there never will be an American version of this, because there's no legal way to force every airport to install cryogenic fuel capability for the one or two times this aircraft lands.

    Unlike your new big wonky Airbus, in which the big mean EU forced major airports to build in the capability to take a practically non-existant aircraft, because existing infrastructure (gates and terminals) simply couldn't fit it.

    Big governments like the EU and China have no problem forcing massive civil engineering projects (funded by unwilling and unrecognized taxpayers) do they? Boeing attempts to build transsonic airliners and mega passenger aircraft were all terminated in the design stage specifically because of their inability to operate from preexisting infrastructure. Especially with snobby uncooperative Euro's whinging about how they'd have to make a change and refusing to do so. Boeing designs included weird stuff like folding wings and even aircraft that loaded sideways or folded in half Super Guppy style. All to be good Global Neighbors and not force the rest of the world to catch up. Needless to say, all designs failed.

    That's why Northrop doesn't build a flying wing airliner-no way to make it work at existing terminals. Airbus could have done so, used a superior design, but didn't need to. Why do anything better when you're guaranteed no competition? Just make it bigger and have Big Brother ram tax money after it to make it fit.

    And when it all turns out to be a big boondoggle, there's no worries-you can't vote out your Constortiums, they'll still be around to come up with their next your-taxes-to-their-pocket routine. Complain enough and the new EU military doesn't have to worry about violating your constitutional rights, because there isn't one of those either.

  47. Chris G Silver badge


    Try googling Barnes Wallis' Swallow. He envisaged a ten hour return trip in the fifties for his variable geometry plane but the British gov dropped it ( anything interesting they drop, taxes on the other hand.....) so whilst looking for backing in the states the yanks stole the idea from Wallis and made the F111.

  48. El Veg
    IT Angle

    Obligatory IT Angle

    Imagine the bandwidth of one of these creepers full of DLT tapes!

    telldodo: nod to andrew tanenbaum

  49. El (not Reg)

    ESA plus British boffinry, eh?

    What's the projected maximum cruising altitude for this, at mach 5.5, whilst air-breathing? Though this aircraft's design is not intended for orbit, the engine design will open up a massive cost reduction in payload to orbit, when used with LOX, for above the air-breathing cruise altitude. After all, at a high enough altitude (i.e. above most of the heavy atmosphere, say 100,000ft+) & at that velocity, you've already done a big fraction of the gruntwork to get to orbit. Environmentally clean, too. The engine is suitable for a pure rocket, as well as a high-atmosphere airliner. Though, I wouldn't use this engine for a spaceplane. For few passengers & large amounts of equipment to orbit, it'd be better to carry a separate, disposable capsule-type (if you want a more comfortable ride, something like Russia's Kliper design?) reentry vehicle as part of the payload or as the nosecone. NASA's shuttle is too cost-inefficient in terms of deadweight payload (i.e. the orbiter's unnecessarily high reentry mass, itself).

    Though, this engine design is spot on. Get it working, ESA!

  50. Steve Welsh
    Thumb Down

    @El (not Reg)

    "Though, this engine design is spot on. Get it working, ESA!"

    You need to read about hydrogen economy when used as a straight fuel. Hydrogen is NOT an energy source, it is merely an energy carrier. As such its EROEI is negative. That's fine if you want to go lemming-like down that particular route to mankind making this planet into another Mars.

    Get real!

  51. El (not Reg)

    @Steve Welsh, EROEI

    It'd ultimately depend on how much, & what kind of, use the engine is put to, as to the degree of negative EROEI. This engine will not result in the immediate termination of a hydrocarbon-driven economy. Such an aircraft/spacecraft engine would be used for a very small segment of the overall commercial aerospace market. The standalone EROEI absolutely should not be allowed to stop development, at the very least, for use towards allowing bigger payloads to space; though the need to carry less liquid oxygen onboard the first stage of a rocket. LOX/LH2 is bog-standard rocket fuel, by your reasoning this would justifiably ground a pretty big chunk of launches, not taking any other potentially beneficial factors into account.

    "Hydrogen is NOT an energy source"

    I never said it was, so please don't put words into my mouth.

    "...mankind making this planet into another Mars."

    If I'm reading you correctly, as you've presented it, then you're suggesting that this'll cause global cooling or that the planet will dry up? If cooling, then this sounds like panic talk; go & panic about Yellowstone blowing it's lid. If water, then what do you think that LOX & LH2 combustion produces? Please rethink how you present this, in future.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "I know this is only an early mock-up, but I was immediately struck by the similarities in the delta wing and engine placement of this jet to an early 1950's American super-sonic nuclear bomber jet known as the Convair B-58 Hustler. It looks like a super-stretched version. Also the forward canard on the fuselage reminds me of the design of another supersonic long range nuclear bomber from the early 60's known as the XB-70 aircraft so far advanced in its day that portions of its techology are still classified."

    It doesn't look anything like them really. Just because it has canards doesn't mean it's ripping off every other plane that has canards, and just because the engines are the same shape as the B58, doesn't mean it is ripping that off either!

    "Unlike your new big wonky Airbus, in which the big mean EU forced major airports to build in the capability to take a practically non-existant aircraft, because existing infrastructure (gates and terminals) simply couldn't fit it."

    Yeh, it's called 'progress', and it's quite useful. It opens up more possibilities in the future as well.

  53. Mr Larrington
    Paris Hilton


    Anybody want to buy a Starfighter?

    Then buy an acre of ground, and wait.


  54. Steve
    Thumb Up

    Sonic booms - @ A. Lewis et al

    Lots of interesting stuff about sonic booms at the NASA website, e.g.

    "Overpressures of 1 to 2 pounds are produced by supersonic aircraft flying at normal operating altitudes. Some public reaction could be expected between 1.5 and 2 pounds.

    Rare minor damage may occur with 2 to 5 pounds overpressure."

    * SR-71: 0.9 pounds, speed of Mach 3, 80,000 feet

    * Concorde SST: 1.94 pounds, speed of Mach 2, 52,000 feet

    * F-104: 0.8 pounds, speed of Mach 1.93, 48,000 feet

    * Space Shuttle: 1.25 pounds, speed of Mach 1.5, 60,000 feet, landing approach

    so even at 50,000+ ft it can still be a problem. I remember the original Concorde trials, flying supersonic up the Irish sea. Great fun 'til the spoilsports with smashed greenhouses complained :)

  55. stizzleswick

    @ A.Lewis

    In the 1970s and 80s SR-72s flew over my living area on their way home every few days, at above 60,000 feet. When they did, the sonic boom was enough to occasionally damage stacked cups in the cupboard. _That's_ why Concorde was not allowed to go supersonic above populated areas, and other civilian planes won't be either.

  56. Jet Set Willy


    As I understand it the SR-71 (Blackbird) leaked fuel like a sive from takeoff because there were no sealing compounds that could withstand the heat generated by air friction on the fuselage. They had to do a quick run to heat everything up, expand the airframe and plug the gaps (and then refuel because there wasn't much left in the tanks). Since it did just over Mach 3 when cruising, what are the implications of cruising at Mach 5? Do adequate sealing compounds exist now?

  57. Anonymous Coward

    So what about

    all that water vapour in the high atmosphere??

    Is this April 1 or something and time travel exists?

  58. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    I Couldn't Give A Shit

    Normally this kind of thing is really interesting, but I can't imagine it ever actually being made.

    Even if it is, it'll be so outrageously expensive that I'll never go on it.

    I say, cut out the intermediate stage you lazy boffin bastards and get on with something really impressive like transporter beams, anti-gravity belts and flying cars. You're all just stealing Gerry Anderson's ideas anyway.

    In the meantime I'll go back to dreaming that my firm will one day put me in business class. With people who don't stink / cough / twitch / whatever.

    I'm also praying they don't actually install that system that allows your mobile phone to work in flight. Twelve hours sitting next to some fuckwit jabbering on about sales figures and I'll steer the plane into the nearest tall building myself.

  59. Greg Williams

    @ Anonymous Coward, with reference to terminal redesign...

    As I recall, with the advent of the 747, many airports also had to make considerable terminal changes to accommodate it's size.

    Now, that was a US plane wasn't it? Well, well...

    But I suppose it's okay when the rest of the world has to make changes to fit in with US requirements, like in every other element of life.

    As someone from the US, I would consider it to be particularly brave/stupid of you to go on about a government forcing it's will on the rest of the world...

  60. James Prior
    Thumb Down

    Ref: Wedge

    "IANAAD (I am not an aero-dynamicist) but surely the plane in that picture is the wrong shape, IIRC super sonic planes should have the same cross sectional area throughout the body as much as possible, that one is shaped like a wedge."

    Not quite true, most conceptial designs for HSCTs (high speed civil transports) all take on the wedge shape - this includes the X33 (which was scrapped) and several versions drawn up by NASA since.

  61. Neil D W Smith

    The reason why it looks like something from Thuderbirds.. very simple. They wouldn't have flown either. It's a very pretty picture that someone's presented but a few things immediately spring to mind.

    The wing area, while it might work at high speeds, appears to be totally insufficient to get the plane off the ground in the first place.

    The angle of the leading edge is too great for high speed work and too small for low speed work. A double delta is the compromise option if they expect to be able to cruise subsonically and also have supersonic capabilities. It might have to be variable geometry to truly get the hypersonic.

    There's a reason engines aren't put on wingtips. The stresses involved are ridiculous compared to attaching them to either the wing root or incorporating them into the fuselage. The amount of bracing required to do that is totally impractical from a weight perspective.

    I'm only an amateur from the aeronautical engineering perspective but it appears that they've gained funding by producing a very pretty picture that makes the people with the money say "Ooh, that looks cool!" but have in actual fact done little or no work on the true design side of things.

    I could be wrong but to me it definitely looks like someone did a snow job to get funding.

  62. andy gibson


    Whatever happened to HOTOL?

  63. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Danny Strickland

    Actually this looks VERY similar to a Soviet bomber project from the late 50s built by the Myasishchev OKB only know as the M-50/M-52. One actually flew and partly responsible for the "Bomber Gap" hysteria that swept through the US Air Force at the time ... Oh, the soviets didn't put it into service as it looked good but was actually rubbish! It's now rotting in a field, sorry museum, in Russia.

  64. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    US warplanes

    1. I remember the B-58 well. About 45 years ago the USAF made training runs with it on some American cities, and my grandmother, used to a quiet life in a smaller town, about jumped out of her shoes when the sonic boom hit.

    But the supersonic B-58 was shelved not long after, while the older subsonic B-52 goes on and on.

    2. The F-111 was beloved by the DoD numbers guys brought in by MacNamara, for it was supposed to work for all the services. The Navy, one of the intended recipients, managed to get out from under it, and as I recall the Air Force never much liked it.

  65. William Doohan

    Danny Strickland got it right

    Dan you got it right. It looks like the Myasishchev M-50 'Bounder', a supposedly nuclear powered bomber that alarmed the US Air Force into working on one themselves. But as the US Navy Admirals said to them at the time, "We'll have a submarine in the sky before you guys have a bomber in the ocean"

  66. Nick

    How soon they forget

    I am shocked. I have only just caught up with the post on Wed, but as everyone ought to remember, Captain Scarlet was the lead character in Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. To my shame I can't remember who the pilot of Fireball XL5 was, but it sure wasn't Captain Scarlet. Incidentally, bet not many people can remember what the very first Gerry Anderson series was?

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