Virgin Galactic is making strides toward its goal of creating high-speed commercial aircraft that operates a little closer to Earth than its existing passenger spacecraft. The company revealed the initial design of the commercial passenger airplane it’s creating that’s designed to fly at speeds in excess of Mach 3 — faster than the average cruising speed of around Mach 2 that the original Concorde achieved.
This concept design comes alongside a new partnership for Virgin Galactic, by way of a memorandum of understanding that the company signed with Rolls-Royce, one of the world’s leading aircraft engine makers. Rolls-Royce is also responsible for the engine of the Concorde, one of the only supersonic commercial aircraft ever used for passenger travel.
Virgin Galactic announced in May that it would be partnering with NASA to work toward high-speed, high altitude point-to-point travel for commercial airline passengers. The plan is to eventually create an aircraft that can fly above 60,000 feet (the cruising altitude of the Concorde) and carry between 9 and 19 people per flight, with a cabin essentially set up to provide each of those passengers with either Business or First Class-style seating and service. One other key element of the design is that it can be powered by next-gen sustainable fuel for more ecological operation.
In some ways, this project has many of the same goals that NASA has with its X-59 Quiet Supersonic research aircraft. Both aim to inspire the industry at large to do more to pursue the development of high-Mach point-to-point travel, and Virgin says that one of its aims is to “act as a catalyst to adoption in the rest of the aviation community” by coming up with baseline “sustainable technologies and techniques.”
Another company working on supersonic flight, Boom Supersonic, is set to unveil and begin testing its XB-1 prototype at an event in October, and also recently announced a new partnership with Rolls-Royce to assist with the design and manufacture of the engines for its eventual Overture commercial plane.