It’s been 70 years since Chuck Yeager squeezed into the sharply tapered cockpit of the Bell X-1 rocket plane and cracked a physical and psychological barrier that busted aircraft development wide open. After dropping from a B-29, Yeager reached Mach 1.06, causing what sounded like distant thunder to the crew on the ground. Then he did a victory roll and while supersonic flight is a daily experience for military pilots all over the world, it’s eluded widespread commercial success.
Building supersonic transports is not really a technical issue, but more a political one. After 70 years, researchers are still trying to figure out how to stop or lessen the thunder from the sonic boom so that governments will allow them to fly over land. Spike Aerospace flew a scale model of its proposed S-512 $60 million 22-seat Quiet Supersonic Jet in New England last week and says it will have a socially acceptable prototype flying by 2021. Aerion continues to promise an aircraft half that size at twice the price but hasn’t flown anything yet.