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Virgin Galactic unveils supersonic jet for commercial flights

Image credit: virgin galactic

Virgin Galactic has announced it is working with Rolls-Royce to develop an aircraft that can travel at Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound.

The firm, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, says its new generation of high-speed aircraft will be environmentally sustainable with a focus on “customer experience”.

It will be the first commercial aircraft capable of supersonic flight since the Concorde programme was retired in 2003 but will only have capacity for 9 to 19 people compared to the Concorde’s 100-passenger capacity.

Virgin said it will use “state-of-the-art” sustainable aviation fuel and is adopting environmentally friendly design practices right from the get-go.

The engineering team are currently determining which materials to use in the design and manufacturing of the aircraft and are working on key challenges including thermal management, maintenance, noise, emissions, and economics that routine high speed commercial flights would entail.

During flight the aircraft will reach altitudes as high as 60,000 feet, more than 50 per cent higher than the average cruising height of commercial airliners, but it is designed to land and take off from existing airports like any other passenger plane.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is also working with Virgin Galactic to outline a certification framework, said George Whitesides, chief space officer at Virgin Galactic.

He said: “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.”

The new aircraft follows last week’s unveiling of the interior design for Virgin Galactic’s spacefaring aircraft.

The company confirmed yesterday that Branson himself would be flying into space in the aircraft early next year assuming that two upcoming test-flight programmes go as planned.

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