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EADS reveals hypersonic successor to Concorde

The ZEHST will fly at an altitude of 32km and take just 2.5 hours to get from Paris to Tokyo. But Concorde's successor is still only on the drawing board, and even if the project is successful, it will not take passengers until 2050.


It's a glimmer of a return to the glorious days of Concorde: French aerospace group EADS confirmed on Monday that it plans to build a hypersonic jet that could fly from Paris to Tokyo in 2.5 hours.

Known as ZEHST (Zero Emission High Speed Transport), the futuristic aeroplane shares many of the characteristics of its supersonic predecessor.

“It’s not a Concorde, but it looks like a Concorde,” EADS chief technical officer Jean Botti told reporters at the opening of the Paris Air Show, adding that the design “shows that the aerodynamics of the 1960s were very smart.”

While the two aircraft share similar lines, project spokesman Gregor Van Kursell told FRANCE 24 that continuity with Concorde would also definitely be reflected in the ticket price.

“This is clearly not for tourist travel and flights will not be cheap,” he said. “ZEHST is for business people who need to fly to a different continent in the morning and come back in the evening.”

Before Concorde was retired in 2003 a return flight from Paris to New York cost around 6,000 euros.

“We don’t know how much fuel will cost when it flies for the first time,” Van Kursell added. “It could be much more.”

Three engines

The ZEHST, which is being developed with Japanese collaboration (while Concorde was a French-British project), will carry between 50 to 100 passengers.

The plane will take off from a conventional runway, powered initially by conventional turbo-fans. Once airborne, the plane’s rocket engines and ramjets (which are used in missiles) will lift it 32 km up into the high atmosphere.

At the end of the flight the craft will glide down to earth and redeploy the turbo-fans for a controlled landing.

Despite its high speed the ZEHST will make little noise and unlike Concorde - a very loud aircraft forever trailing a cloud of black smoke - will not be a big polluter.

At hypersonic altitudes the aircraft is “too high to be heard,” according to Jean Botti, and the use of biofuels for the jets and a hydrogen and oxygen mix for the rockets will produce virtually no polluting emissions.

Passengers should not be in a hurry to get tickets for the first flight, which Van Kursell said would not take place until 2050. The earliest date for test flights will be 2020.

“All the technology exists,” he said, “But to put three different types of engine in an aircraft in this way has never been done. No one should underestimate the complexity of such a project.”

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