You may have read of companies such as Boeing and Virgin Galactic wanting to bring back supersonic (faster than sound) air travel. Sixteen years ago, Concorde aircraft used to scream across the Atlantic Ocean at twice the speed of sound — or Mach 2. All that is passé. Reaction Engines, a UK-based company, is developing the ‘synergetic air-breathing rocket engine’. Perhaps in a decade or so, when it is pressed into service, you could be zipping across the skies at five times the speed of sound, or at about 6,000 km an hour. The engine is a ‘ramjet’ — in flight, it sucks in air, compresses and combusts it and lets it out through the exhaust in the rear, picking up thrust — stuff of rockets.
A hypersonic aircraft, of course, is not easy to build. At Mach 5, the engines heat up to 1,000 degrees C, calling for extremely robust cooling systems. It is still futuristic — even if the technology delivers, economics is uncertain. However, Reaction Engines has secured $130 million from (BA)E Systems, Rolls-Royce and Boeing, apart from $78 million from the UK government. When investors put money where their mouth is, there’s got to be something in it.