Europe's Hypersonic Airliner

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A project insider for a planned European hypersonic airliner is confident his program could in 2013 demonstrate that technological barriers can be overcome, but current economic conditions may stall the project. The European Space Agency's Lapcat program is working on the A2 aircraft, which aims to carry passengers beyond Mach 5 in long-range flight. Johan Steelant, the program's coordinator, told the BBC that while different systems and subsystems still need to be proven, "critical technology is no longer a blocking point." The blocking point now, it appears, may be the current atmosphere of economic austerity prevalent across Europe. But a large amount of funding has already been allocated.

The project is funded by both the European Commission and private investors, which have together backed Lapcat to the tune of 10 million EUR. With economic forces working against it, ambition and desire are working for it. According to Steelant, the European Commission wants to be an aviation pioneer that leads the world in innovation. As it is, Lapcat's funding is set to run dry in 2013, when the project will be reviewed. It is then that the project's viability will have to be balanced against economic and political realities. The A2 aircraft would be powered by a hybrid engine design. The engine would use a turbojet for takeoff and to accelerate to supersonic speeds. Then a rocket would take the aircraft to Mach 6 or more, running on liquid hydrogen and air. Economic difficulties aside, the A2 is not expected to overcome all the challenges posed by hypersonic passenger flight for decades and is not forecast to fly until 2040.