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Japan Plans Test of 'New Concorde' 424

Steve Nixon writes "Japan's space agency plans to launch an arrow-shaped airplane at twice the speed of sound high over the Australian outback as early as next month in a crucial test of the country's push to develop a supersonic successor to the retired Concorde."
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Japan Plans Test of 'New Concorde'

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  • If the 1.1 billion yen ($10 million) experiment works, Japan's space agency plans to follow up with similar tests of a jet-powered craft, Kyodo News Agency reported.

    I, for one, think it would be infinitly cooler to fly in a rocketship than in a crummy supersonic jet.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:36AM (#13379348)
    This was seen [] in the skies over Tokyo in the 1960s. At least the beak is the same.
  • by N8F8 ( 4562 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:38AM (#13379367)
    It ain't cool unless it got a robot.
    • by BlackCobra43 ( 596714 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:40AM (#13379382)
      The entire PLANE is probably a robot. With superfluous robot crew and robot stewardesses with creepy hands.
    • by DigitalRaptor ( 815681 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:17AM (#13379682) Homepage
      Speaking of "robot controlled", I find it amazing that jets like the 747 don't have a way to detect a loss of cabin pressure and go to a lower altitude.

      The plane that crashed in Greece flew on autopilot until it ran out of gas.

      Had the autopilot detected the loss of cabin pressure and immediately dropped to the lowest safe altitude (10,000 if there aren't any mountains to run into, for instance), the pilots would have regained consciousness and 150+ people wouldn't have died (not to mention the loss of a very expensive piece of equipment).

      • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <{richardprice} {at} {}> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:29AM (#13379810)
        You yourself mention the reason why this doesnt happen - terrain. An autopilot cannot conduct avoidance measures for other aircraft or terrain, so theres little point in having an auto descend capability, because if it happens over, say, Heathrow then you have a huge possibility of collisions with other aircraft, especially if one of them is going to make sudden, unexpected movements like dive 25,000 feet.

        What you need to be asking is why didnt the cockpit oxygen systems work? You have 15 - 30 seconds to put an oxygen mask on at 35,000ft so how was it that neither Pilot or Flight Officer managed to get their (independant) mask on and descend the aircraft?
        • It might have been a slow leak of cabin pressure. Slow changes are hard to notice. I don't know what the trigger pressure is for the oxygen masks to drop, but if it's low enough, by the time they were triggered pressure might have gotten low enough that the pilots reaction times were significantly lowered.
        • by David Horn ( 772985 ) <> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:50AM (#13380032) Homepage
          To quote from an experienced airline pilot:

          "If the depressurization is catastrophic, i.e., a structural failure, like a hatch or cargo door, the flight crew is totally surprised and a little bit shocky. The Captain and co-pilot experience strange physiological events and are thinking, "What the heck is going on?" At an altitude of 34,000 feet, the next thought had better be, "Oh s***t, I need to get on oxygen right now!" If they do not, then it is lights out.

          2. Altitude chambers are realistic training devices, but the students are expecting the event and are anxious to see how long they can maintain useful consciousness. Most young pilots can maintain 20-30 seconds. In a real event, lung pressure is sharply reduced as the pilots gasp in surprise. While the brain is in denial, the clock is running, and unconsciousness is only a few seconds away.

          3. Since the beginning of high altitude airline operations (60 years or so), crew oxygen bottle valves have been mistakenly turned off, or rather, failed to be turned on when that bottle is replaced for normal maintenance or refill. Part two of this scenario- the pilots fail to find the closed valve during preflight. Then, when the crew tries to use their quick donning masks... oops!"
        • Some speculation [] would indicate that there may have been problems with the oxygen supply to the two pilots.

          If this was inoperative, then they may well have passed out whilst trying to figure out what was wrong or even trying to get to a secondary source [e.g. portable bottles held in the cabin].

          There was an incident on board an aircraft in 1989 over the English Channel [I've lost the link to the official report]. The aircraft cabin altitude rose; the captain passed out; the first officer took control; the

      • by tyler_larson ( 558763 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @01:06PM (#13380854) Homepage
        I find it amazing that jets like the 747 don't have a way to detect a loss of cabin pressure and go to a lower altitude.

        The technology is there, but they decided that it's safer not to implement it that way. Sensors do alert the pilot if the cabin pressure exceeds safe levels, but the plane never takes control away from the pilot.

        Consider the facts:

        • The highest "safe" (i.e. allowed) altitude without pressurization or oxygen is 12,500 feet.
        • Mountain peaks are often thousands of feet above that level.
        • Pilots have ample time (i.e. useful consciousness) to put on their oxygen masks in the event of depresurization. (Ever been in an aircraft that depressurized at altitude? I have. There's time.)
        • If the plane is flying so high that the pilot won't have plenty of time to assess the situation and put on his mask, one of the two must wear his oxygen mask at all times.
        • In the event that some major system on the aircraft malfunctions (like the pressurization system), the chances of another system malfunctioning because of some related damage are higher. In that case, having the aircraft make course adjustments on its own without the pilot's input could cause even more disasters.

        All things considered, the existing system was deemed the safest. We may never know the full details of the recent crash in Greece, but we can be sure that there was more to the story than just that.

        That being said, I would also point out that there is some merit to your argument. There have been enough crashes like the one in Greece to warrant further investigation--yes, it has happened multiple times that jets have depressurized and flown on autopilot until they run out of fuel. And in some of these cases, fighter jets have intercepted these craft in the air and found things like frosted over windows and a fully unconscious crew. Spooky.

        The technology exists (though, admittedly not in the older 737s). Modern civilian aircraft can navigate between any two points on their earth avoiding terrain and reporting their location and status to ATC, all without pilot intervention. If the airport and aircraft are properly equipped (most aren't), they can even land unassisted by the pilot. But while we tend to tolerate some degree of human error in almost everything, if some undamaged computer or mechanical component fails to perform adequately, inquiries and lawsuits always follow.

        The equipment to do all this is frighteningly expensive, but available. It's reliable, but not foolproof. But then again, the same goes for a human pilot.

        So is it worth it? I don't know.

        • I can think of at least one golfer and his family, a politician and his family, and a plane full of Greeks that all died when there wasn't ample time. In each case the plane just kept on cruising at altitude, was observed by escort planes that could do nothing, then ran out of gas and crashed.

          So I don't think there is "ample" time, though maybe sufficient time under normal to optimal conditions (both pilots in their seat, everything goes according to plan, etc).

          I agree the technology exists while the profi
        • The equipment to do all this is frighteningly expensive, but available. It's reliable, but not foolproof.

          The Tomahawk missile can fly several hundred miles at very low altitude, avoiding terrain all the while, and hit a target within a few feet of error margin. Current production units cost under $600,000 per missile (and you don't need the rest of the missile), which might be less than the life insurance of one passenger.

          Another alternative comes from Predator UAV technology, which I believe allows a g

  • by Crixus ( 97721 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:39AM (#13379375)
    Some sort of high altitude Concorde replacement is necessary.

        My choice would be a spaceplane of sorts that takes parabolic trajectories. I've been hearing about plans of a craft of this type that would get you from NY to Tokyo in 45 minutes.

      Burt Rutan WHERE ARE YOU?! :-)

      Sign me up.
    • by Bastian ( 66383 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:57AM (#13379527)
      I'm curious why you use the term 'necessary.'

      The Concorde, having come into existence decades before the explosion of the Internet and stuff like videoconferencing, was rolled out at a time when business and government folks (the only ones for whom it could ever be anything but a luxury) had a much greater need for a supersonic jetliner, and yet only sixteen were ever built. The entire project would almost certainly have been a complete and dismal failure had there not been massive subsidies from the French and British governments keeping the thing in the air.

      There in the end, the Concorde was having a hard time filling seats - yes, the crash in 2000 and Sep. 11 played into this, but my guess is that the demand was already dropping, and these events just exacerbated the situation.

      This Japanese supersonic jetliner is about as necessary as the Bugati Veyron or a jet turbine powered motorcycle.
      • by dtmos ( 447842 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:10AM (#13379630)
        You obviously do not fly across the Pacific very often. Realizing that you're flying at 550 mph when technology to fly at 1400 mph was introduced in the 1970s becomes really excruciating after about 10 hours into the flight.

        To the point that you'd pay a significant surcharge to already be at your destination, asleep in your hotel room.

        The high fuel consumption difficulty mentioned in TFA is what kept Concorde off of the Pacific routes; if that is resolved as the Japanese intend, I see a nice market for this plane.
    • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by f97tosc ( 578893 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:01AM (#13379565)
      Some sort of high altitude Concorde replacement is necessary

      The original concorde had a failed business model (granted, noise regulation around some American airports didn't help).

      What has fundamentally changed since then, that is likely to make this more successful? I think on the contrary when new "regular" flights such as 787 (or the new Airbus) are somewhat faster and have much better communications (internet, etc), it will make the value proposition for a super-fast, super-expensive flight even more questionable.

      • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <{richardprice} {at} {}> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:44AM (#13379965)
        Concorde didnt have a failed business model, it was actually making money on each flight once British Airways took over Concorde operations totally. What it did have was huge development costs, mainly because in the end only 14 aircraft were sold. If all the options were exercised by the airlines, Concorde would have sold over 600 airframes and been very successful but unfortunately it turned out that it couldnt fly supersonic over land and the most profitable route for Concorde was already taken by Air France and British Airways.

        I dont understand your comment about the 787 or A350 being 'faster', as they are both subsonic. There will always be a market for supersonic flights, whether its serviced by a major airline or a private aircraft.
    • No flight is necessary. Desirable yes, people like to travel, but they don't need to.

      I liked how the article put a slight negative spin on Concorde and this latest Japanese plane. Many Americans wish they were producing such a plane and are quite bitter than the UK and France have beat them to it in many areas of aviation (first with supersonic passenger jet, first to produce a horizontal take off fighter).

      The important thing is will this plane generate much more damaging pollution? we shouldn't waste fuel
  • Only 10 million? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TurdTapper ( 608491 ) * <> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:40AM (#13379380) Journal
    Wow, when was the last time the US did an experiment for that little money?

    Of course, their last one crashed into the desert in a perhaps a little extra money could have been put to good use.
  • I don't get it. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bigtallmofo ( 695287 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:40AM (#13379385)
    The Concorde first flew in 1969 and became a symbol of French and European industrial acumen. But the planes were retired from commercial service in October 2003, never having recouped the billions of tax dollars invested in them.

    The article did a good job writing up all the past failures of this Japanese program, but one thing that was conspicuously absent was a rationale for why Japan is doing this at all. Considering the fiscal failure of the Concorde, I would expect any article on this topic to include what the "next generation" plans to do differently other than just niftier technology.
    • Two reasons: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mekkab ( 133181 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:46AM (#13379435) Homepage Journal
      1) Concorde was an engineering marvel that never got stepped up with the times. Japan and France are betting they can make a much more efficient engine that would save on fuel consumption.

      2) Large bodies of water. You can't fly the concord at full speed over the continental united states (pretty much squashing SST in America). But you can do it over the vastness of the pacific. If you shorten that route, business men and women will beat a path to your door, check book in hand. So would international parcel carriers.
      • Re:Two reasons: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by quanticle ( 843097 )

        The Atlantic is a very large body of water as well. Yet businesspeople did not beat a path to the old Concorde's doorstep looking for high-speed transatlantic flights. Why will the Pacific market be any different?

        As for cargo, the original Concorde only had room enough for 100 or so passengers. That doesn't translate into a whole lot of cargo space. Considering the fact that cargo usually doesn't need to travel as quickly as people (even the most perishable cargo can last a few hours with proper packin

      • 2005 SRS Best Practices Awards
        Parcel carriers need cargo space and low cost - neither of which this gives.

        Plus, the air transit time is a small part of the total delievry time.
    • Re:I don't get it. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by onion2k ( 203094 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:51AM (#13379476) Homepage
      Calling Concorde a fiscal failure is a little deceptive. Sure, the British and French government's never got their investment back from British Airways and Air France, but they never wanted it back. European government often backs extremely expensive development of aviation projects without requiring the money is paid back. It annoys Boeing and Lockheed no end. But they do it to keep jobs and confidence going in the industry.

      And besides, it's cool.

      Sometimes you have to look beyond simply making a profit.
      • Re:I don't get it. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Malc ( 1751 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:02AM (#13379566)
        Yeah, and the likes of Boeing and Lockheed get the equivalent of subsidies from the US government. There's no outside competition in their market (defense industry), which annoys Airbus no end ;)
        • Yeah, and the likes of Boeing and Lockheed get the equivalent of subsidies from the US government. There's no outside competition in their market (defense industry), which annoys Airbus no end

          Don't be silly. There are PLENTY of foreign companies that sell to the US DoD. They usually have a presence in the American commercial market, but they do not need to be American companies.

          For example, see British-based Rolls Royce - the largest customer for their defense division is now the pentagon:

          http://economist []
        • Re:I don't get it. (Score:3, Insightful)

          by amabbi ( 570009 )
          Airbus was a joint venture of Britain's BAE Systems and EADS-- combined, they are the world's largest defense contractor. Whiners who complain about Boeing and Lockmart's defense contracts as subsidies should well remember that. Besides, before Boeing bought McDonnell-Douglas in the mid 90s, they were a distant second player in the defense market.
      • Re:I don't get it. (Score:2, Interesting)

        by quanticle ( 843097 )

        Well, if it never turned a profit, or even broke even, I think "fiscal failure" is a pretty appropriate term. I agree with you in the sense that sometimes fiscal failures are necessary to develop and refine technology, as with the Concorde. But that doesn't change the fact that the venture didn't turn a profit. It also doesn't change the fact that the venture may have had successes in a non-financial sense (i.e. advancement of technology, boost of national prestige, etc.)

        Perhaps, instead of fiscal fai

      • Re:I don't get it. (Score:2, Insightful)

        by ifwm ( 687373 )
        "Calling Concorde a fiscal failure is a little deceptive" Didn't make money. Nothing deceptive there. "Sometimes you have to look beyond simply making a profit." Um, isn't making a profit what "fiscal" success is? Did you bother to look it up before you posted? Yes it's cool, yes it's a great research endeavor, but is WAS a fiscal failure, no way around that.
  • by PureCreditor ( 300490 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:43AM (#13379408)
    i think there's a decent-size market of businessmen between North American and Japan/China that will appreciate the HUGE time savings when frequently traveling across the Pacific Ocean. Instead of having to eat 3 meals, 2 movies, and 1 hibernation, a businessman can depart San Francisco at 9am, have brunch on the plane, browse the internet and work on polishing his powerpoint presentation, take a quick 1.5 hr nap, and arrive at Shanghai at 7:30am, refreshed, and ready to meet with his business partners.

    what we need is a Concorde-replacement, not more bureaucracy and political bickering.
    • by matt4077 ( 581118 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:54AM (#13379501) Homepage
      well, developing it in japan doesn't mean that they are planning to use it (only) there. There is certainly a market for this between all three major economic areas: North America, Europe, Asia. The Japanese will certainly be happy to sell it.

      Besides, did they really make you eat 2 movies? Does it hurt?

  • by onion2k ( 203094 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:43AM (#13379411) Homepage
    This new plane is supposed to be able to carry 300 people at Mach 2. Concorde's top speed was Mach 2 as well. It was designed over 40 years ago.

    I'd have thought we'd be capable of at least twice that by now.
    • For certain definitions of that. :)

      From []:
      The Concorde was designed to carry about 100 passengers, though it was certified to carry as many as 128. The theoretical maximum that the aircraft could accommodate was 144, though the cabin would be quite cramped in this configuration.
    • by pohl ( 872 ) * on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:03AM (#13379574) Homepage
      The Concorde carried 100 passengers at Mach 2, or 50 passengers per Mach...this new plane will do three times the number of passengers-per-Mach as the Concorde, which works out to a rate of advancement of 3.75 passengers-per-mach-per-year.

      I just wrote that because I thought passengers-per-Mach was an amusing metric.

    • The difference is, this one will be *cheaper*. Your car goes about as fast as one made in the 1960s too, but nobody would argue auto technology has stagnated since then.
      • I would, to some degree. Cars definitely have more safety, but that's the only real improvement (not that it's a minor improvement). But they still use gasoline engines, most commuter cars still get 25-30 MPG, trucks still get ~10 MPG, etc. They might have more power, but it only goes into pushing more of the weight of the safety equipment around. Essentially, other than safety, nothing has changed drastically since the 60s. You might say "hybrid" power cars are a huge improvement, but personally I don't se
    • Go much above Mach 2.4 and you start having to make your aircraft out of materials such as titanium instead of aluminium, because the heating goes up massively. Thus per plane costs go up correspondingly, and maintenance requires new tools. This is one of the reasons the American SST failed, because it was designed to 'out do' Concorde by going Mach 2.8 - Mach 3.
    • by mikerich ( 120257 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @12:08PM (#13380197)
      This new plane is supposed to be able to carry 300 people at Mach 2. Concorde's top speed was Mach 2 as well. It was designed over 40 years ago.

      The designers of Concorde looked at Mach 3 flight but were constrained by the materials available at the time. The only material up to Mach 3 were various titanium alloys of which neither Britain nor France had much experience, so they chose aluminium alloys. Aluminium has a much lower tolerance to high temperatures, so they had to reduce the maximum speed to keep frictional heating low.

      I wonder if the same applies today? Titanium was used on the SR71, but that was a plane notorious for leaking fuel when sitting on the ground - not the most inspiring sight for wannabe passengers!

  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <{tepples} {at} {}> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:44AM (#13379422) Homepage Journal

    How much energy does it take to break the sound barrier? I'm curious because I know that relatively cheap oil (< $200 per barrel) will end in a few decades [], and there don't yet seem to be any renewable jet fuels. After it becomes too expensive to extract oil from the ground, how are airlines going to keep their birds in the air?

    • Yes but according to this book [], people have been saying that oil will run out in 10 years since the discovery of the internal combustion engine. No one really knows how much oil is left in the ground. I find to be a bit sensationalist and it seems that its author is mostly interested in selling doomsday books, which will always sell. Running out of oil is of course still a large issue that we must prepare for, but just because that might someday happen, those of us who have no co
      • Furthermore, each book that he sells wastes some oil, which makes his prophecies self-fulfilling :)
      • The issue isn't one of running out of oil, but one of production decreasing. Nobody has said that oil is running out, in fact we'll probably never extract all the fossil fuel from the ground. The world's economy depends on the assumption that there will be more fuel tomorrow than there is today. This assumption cannot hold forever, and there are some indications that worldwide petroleum production is close to peak. In fact, oil production in the US, UK and other nations has already peaked. This, coupled wit
    • End in a few decades? Not likely. There is enough oil in Saudi, UAE, Iraq, etc to last more than 50 years at the current consumption rate. Add in the HUGE oil sands deposits in Canada and deep water finds in the Gulf of Mexico, the oil in the Artic Wildlife Refuge areas, African onshore and off is barely tapped, and the Russian oil fields can be worked over to produce more. I also suspect you'll see more drilling in China as I suspect that they have reserves but want to hoard those and buy the rest of the w
    • by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:07AM (#13379604) Homepage Journal

      Back in high school the military had brought over one of their choppers. The pilot told us one of the "cool" things about the jet turbine engine was that it could run on almost anything in a pinch, including alcohol, diesel, and gasoline.

      That being the case, I don't see why you couldn't use biodiesel or methanol/ethanol to fuel a jet engine. There might be issues with the power curve for some models, but that likely just means changing the design parameters for future aircraft.

    • I don't think anyone will go back to taking a 2 week journy across the ocean by sailboat. Airlines will raise their prices and most people will pay them.

      Get rid of your car if you can use public transit instead. I found an extra $12k in my pocket per year (insurance, parking, lease, etc.). That makes for a pretty good vacation even if flights quadrouple in price.
  • Finally. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Walterk ( 124748 )
    This deserves to succeed. Slow travel along long distances is a pain in the butt. If they can make it consume about 3/4th of the fuel that Concorde needed, that it'll probably already make a profit.

    The techonology is already there, they just need to optimise it. This is a great collaboration of the two frontiers of technology, Europe and Japan.

    This will probably get modded down by those American Boeing supporters, who have made nothing but new versions of 40 year old aircraft.
    • What? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by BlackCobra43 ( 596714 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:55AM (#13379514)
      You praise this "new" Concorde for basically being a new, slightly improved version of the old one and then bash Boieng for doing pretty much the same thing with its own models. Come on, the Concorde is 40 years old too y'know

  • by HairyCanary ( 688865 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:45AM (#13379431)
    When was the last time we sent someone to the moon? The 60's. And the last time a supersonic plane was developed? The 60's. Is it just money? Why else did we begin to achieve notable success in aerospace in the 60's, and then backslide to where we are now? By 2020 we hope to be back where we were in the 60's. Great.
    • by Ced_Ex ( 789138 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:57AM (#13379528)
      When was the last time we sent someone to the moon? The 60's. And the last time a supersonic plane was developed? The 60's. Is it just money? Why else did we begin to achieve notable success in aerospace in the 60's, and then backslide to where we are now? By 2020 we hope to be back where we were in the 60's. Great.

      I believe the drop in development seems to be curiously related to the drop in the use of slide-rulers and the subsequent usage of electronic calculators.

      Quick, someone smart research this and back me up.
    • > When was the last time we sent someone to the moon? The 60's.

      Eugene Cernan was the last human on the moon, in December of 1972.

    • Don't generalize. I have a device on my wrist the size of a matchbook that has more computing power than a large room stuffed with 60's-era equipment, and it will run continuously for years without any maintenance beyond keeping it reasonably clean.
    • We had the Cold War making the US and Western Europre scramble for every visible indication of technical, cultural, and economic superiority over the totalitarian/communist model (good thing, too - we were right). OK, so that's done now, and we're all down to squabbling over cheese tarrifs and in what particular way to express ourselves about crazy jihaddists, etc. But the next stop will be the looming competition from the Indian/Chinese zone - and that will light it all right back up again. Moon bases, fas
    • Neither the Concord nor the Moon Landings were economicly sustainable. They were impressive acomplishments, but neither one really served too much of a purpose for society at large. They were more propoganda stunts and political gestures than the start of any real industry.

      It seems like it is possible to push ahead on certain technologies by throwing massive amounts of money at it, but unless the economy and society are ready for that technology, then it is going to fall flat on its face.

      If some pressing ne
  • Price to fly (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NelsonM ( 906317 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:49AM (#13379460)
    The United States definitely isn't ready for something like this. With so many airlines going bankrupt because of a super competitive market and absurd fuel costs, I don't see this taking off. (Pun fully intended) ;-)

    I don't see too many people using this service, unless somehow they can keep the ticket prices reasonable. And even that isn't very likely, considering the plane is strapped to a rocket.
  • Very curious. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ancient_Hacker ( 751168 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:54AM (#13379510)
    One might suspect the real purpose is more along the lines of keeping the aircraft industry ticking over at some minor level. There have been billions already spent on supersonic wind-tunnel tests. It's extremely unlikely any new design will be found that's even 10% more efficient than those already developed. And as long as oil is at the current prices, there's no chance the plane would be able to pay for itself, even at $15,000 a seat.
  • by BucksCountyCycleGeek ( 893639 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @10:55AM (#13379513) Homepage
    And I for one would like to welcome our Mach 2 Japanese overlords...

    Hey. That one actually seemed plausible. Oh well...

    OK, seriously. Yes it's all well and good to go Mach 2 but this sounds like another pork barrel (rice basket?) project on the part of the Chinese. Aircraft speed is increasingly becoming less relevant to total travel time. Traveling to Asia will always take the better part of a day. There will always be an hour's drive to the airport, a two hour security buffer time, then 1 hour of customs on the other side. It gets even worse when you consider that Japan might not be your final destination.

    8 hours is optimistic because the developers don't seem to have a plan for getting rid of the sonic boom, which means the airliner will have to fly overwater instead of over Canada. That might make supersonic flight to Asia only possible from the West Coast, not the East Coast.

    When enough processes have been revamped to make traveling to Japan like going to New York for a day then maybe a supersonic transport might be worthwhile.

    • There will always be an hour's drive to the airport, a two hour security buffer time, then 1 hour of customs on the other side. It gets even worse when you consider that Japan might not be your final destination.

      I'd also give ~30 minutes to an hour for loading and taxying to the runway.

      Rail/subways have proven to be a target for terrorists as well, so I imagine that even if we switched to a high speed fuel efficient railway system for long distance travel(advantage: take your family vehicle with you for a
  • "The Concorde first flew in 1969 and became a symbol of French and European industrial acumen."
    Actually the Concorde was a Franco-British project, not a Franco-European one (whatever that means).
    "The development project was negotiated as an international treaty between Britain and France ..." []
    Surely such a rare collaboration between the cheese-munchers and the Perfide Anglais deserves to be recognised... 8-)
  • Old Concept (Score:3, Insightful)

    by isa-kuruption ( 317695 ) <.kuruption. .at.> on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:01AM (#13379563) Homepage
    This concept, the piggy-backed plane, is basically the original concept for launching the space shuttle. The idea was to launch the space shuttle aboard a high altitude, re-usable airplane (rocket powered). Once at a specific altitude, the space shuttle would detach and use it's own power to continue into space.

    Congress killed it because of money problems.

    Over 25 years later, we see the Japanese using the same technology as a commercial airliner. There is nothing really new here, only the implementation has changed.

    Nonetheless, it's a good idea.
    • Re:Old Concept (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ausoleil ( 322752 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:21AM (#13379722) Homepage
      Not exactly what happened. Close, but it was never the design of the shuttle that was so costly as it was the lack of political will on the part of the Niuxon administration, who had no real clue as to how to proceed once Apollo was winding down.

      According to Wikipedia:

      However, in reality, NASA found itself with a rapidly plunging budget. Rather than trying to adapt their long-term future to their dire financial situation, they attempted to save as many of the individual projects as possible. The mission to Mars was rapidly dismissed, but the Space Station and Shuttle conserved. Eventually only one of them could be saved, so it stood to reason that a low-cost Shuttle system would be the better option, because without it a large station would never be affordable.

      A number of designs were proposed, but many of them were complex and varied widely in their systems. An attempt to re-simplify was made in the form of the "DC-3" by one of the few people left in NASA with the political importance to accomplish it, Maxime Faget, who had designed the Mercury capsule, among other vehicles. The DC-3 was a small craft with a 20,000-pound (9 tonne) (or less) payload, a four-man capacity, and limited maneuverability. At a minimum, the DC-3 provided a baseline "workable" (but not significantly advanced) system by which other systems could be compared for price/performance compromises.

      The defining moment for NASA was when they, in desperation to see their only remaining project saved, went to the Air Force for its blessing. NASA asked that the USAF place all of their future launches on the Shuttle instead of their current expendable launchers (like the Titan II), in return for which they would no longer have to continue spending money upgrading those designs -- the Shuttle would provide more than enough capability.

      The Air Force reluctantly agreed, but only after demanding a large increase in capability to allow for launching their projected spy satellites (mirrors are heavy).

      The original space shuttle was just that -- a shuttlecraft not designed to carry heavy cargo into orbit.

      At the end of the Apollo era, the politicians had collectively decided to give in to the "spend the money on earth" socialist types and were cutting the budget of a program that had succeeded both politically and technically. NASA had plans to build space stations, go to Mars and also to develop new vehicles to ferry cargo and another for crew. The "DC-3" space shuttle was that.

      Instead, to preserve any of it's plans, NASA had to fold in the triumvirate of new spacecraft into one, and that to accomodate the Air Force.

      This, in turn, led to the "compromise" design that has plagued the Shuttle since it's inception. fourteen people have died as a result of these compromises, which are namely:

      1. Solid rocket boosters. The SS is the only man-rated vehicle of any nation to use SRB's as a primary boost source.

      2. Side-carried "payload" -- namely the Shuttle itself. The original DC-3 design was a top-payload vehicle much like every other manned spaceraft. However, the size of the compromiwe vehicle would have required a booster larger than the Saturn V in order to achieve LEO. This, obviously was not enable, so the side-payload "piggyback" design was created using engines on the payload itself as a source of thrust for the vehicle.

      Thus, we have what we have, and it is a flying compromise built by the lwest bidder by a company no longer in business for itself (Boeing acquired North American Rockwell.)

      Time for a new shuttle, and one that goes back to the original vision.

    • RTWFA (Score:3, Informative)

      by gr8_phk ( 621180 )
      Read the WHOLE fine article. This is an experiment to test aerodynamics. If successful, they intend to test something with a jet engine. This one is by no means the intended passenger carrying configuration.
  • by panurge ( 573432 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:08AM (#13379606)
    Mark Twain (who was a lot more than the author of Tom Sawyer) was of the view that the perfect way to travel was slowly, on a boat, across the Pacific.

    Perhaps our CEOs and salesmen would actually work better if they had slower travel and had to organise their lives and companies in a more structured way. Perhaps they'd have to delegate more? Find local representatives they could trust? Learn to use video conferencing properly? Even make better business decisions.

    Yes, I do know this is heresy on slashdot. And you know what? I don't care. Not now I know that Linus uses potty words and my last illusion is broken.

    • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:31AM (#13379839) Journal
      I agree. Almost anything really time-critical can be done remotely now. A cruise liner can travel at around 35 knots. At this speed it would take roughly 100 hours - just over four days - to get between the UK and the USA. If I could have a comfortable cabin and an Internet connection, I could be just as productive on the trip as I could be at home. Get the speed up to 70 knots (two days) and price it competitively with aircraft and I'd use it.
    • by TomorrowPlusX ( 571956 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:58AM (#13380109)
      I wish more people felt this way. What's the damn rush, anyhow? ( Yes, yes, I know there are many situations where a rush is important, and that's fine. )

      Personally, I'd like to take a zeppelin to somewhere far away, like australia ( I'm in DC ). It'd be a two week trip each way, probably. I'd relax, and see the country, and ocean. My god, would it be beautiful.

      Everybody's in too much of a damn hurry. I commute by bike, or on foot ( an hour walk, about ), and people are always shocked that I'm willing to take the time. I tell them it's good for the mind, for the soul. They shake their heads in disbelief.
    • and do it anywhere on earth that requires the deliverable.

      Supersonic speed is S-L-O-W compared to light speed.

      What keeps me commuting every damn day is that my manager INSISTS on my showing up at the office.
  • Ugh (Score:2, Funny)

    by mattcurrie ( 192138 )
    Did anyone else read JAXA as AJAX? ~_~

    Damn that horrible buzzword. Damn it to hell!
  • They've got a long, long way to go before commercial (even unprofitable) viability.

    Anyone else notice the price tag (US$10 Mil)?

    Revised headline should read:

    Japanese Company Fails Bid to Win X-Prize; Japanese Government Picks up Research Tab
  • USSR did it earlier (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Soviets had the first Supersonic aircraft; Tupolev TU-144 []

    Concorde was NOT the first supersonic passenger aircraft.
  • by BucksCountyCycleGeek ( 893639 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:25AM (#13379758) Homepage
    I honestly think that going faster has its limits - it's no use going faster if you get stovepiped into taking a train to a secondary airport, doing security, then flying to a major airport, then switching to an SST. It just doesn't work.

    Point-to-point travel is the future - we may not realize it, but there's a lot of economic activity that goes on in places that aren't well served by the airlines. That's why Southwest is eating everyone's lunch. I'd think it would save more time in the long run to develop "free flight" systems so that air taxis and passenger services could fly people from smaller airports. Now that avionics manufacturers are really getting onto ease of use, flying a plane could become not that much harder than driving a car.

    Potentially, "free flight" could be as disruptive as the Internet.

  • by Muad'Dave ( 255648 ) on Tuesday August 23, 2005 @11:30AM (#13379819) Homepage

    ... if they incorporated research into sonic boom supression/elimination like this [], or this [].

    I think finding a way to supress the sonic boom so that it can fly over any country is critical to the success of any future supersonic plane.

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