Virgin Galactic unveils designs for Mach 3 commercial passenger jet

Andrew Cummings
August 4, 2020

The Spaceship Company, which builds air and space craft for its parent company, Virgin Galactic, announced a new design for a commercial airliner that can fly at three times the speed of sound, as well as a partnership with engine-maker Rolls-Royce, which built the engines for one of the few operational supersonic airliners ever made, the Concorde.

The plane, the company added, "would take off and land like any other passenger aircraft and be expected to integrate into existing airport infrastructure and global airspace around the world". For those three decades, folks could fly the Concorde, an aircraft that whisked passengers through the sky at twice the speed of sound, but the plane was a rare instance in which old technology was simply too far ahead of its time.

New York-listed Virgin Galactic pointed to Rolls-Royce's record of working on high-mach engine propulsion as part of its joint development of the supersonic Concorde aeroplane, though this was launched in the 1970s and retired in 2003.

Unveiling initial design concepts, George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic's chief space officer, said if the jet goes into service it would "blend safe and reliable commercial travel with an unrivalled customer experience".

Virgin Galactic's growing rocketry know-how with SpaceShipTwo might also eventually be leveraged into a hypersonic system that could fly between Mach 5 and 25.

Illustration of Virgin Galactic's Mach 3 aircraft design for high speed travel.

That will include specific system architectures and configurations, selecting materials needed in the design and manufacturing of the aircraft and address thermal management, maintenance, noise, emissions and economics.

Essentially, the Mach 3 aircraft would carry nine to 19 passengers, operate at altitudes of above 60,000 ft (18,000 m), and would have a configurable interior, so it can be tailored to the customer's needs, like having various Business and First Class seating arrangements.

The outline accord with Rolls-Royce comes after the Virgin Galactic programme cleared a mission-concept review that included representatives from the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration backed work on an certification framework for the plane.

The aerospace company unveiled Monday its first renderings of a supersonic commercial jet that it hopes will be able to move passengers around the globe at speeds of up to 2,300 miles per hour.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, in March agreed to sell shares worth around $500m (£405m) in Virgin Galactic to raise funds for his struggling airline and leisure businesses.

Virgin Galactic traded 2.5 per cent higher as of 10.09 am in NY on Monday and has nearly doubled in price this year.

The Virgin Galactic aircraft is one of a few supersonic jet ideas now in the design stages.

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