Plans for a pollution-free ‘rocket-plane’ which could cut the flying time from London to Tokyo by more than a quarter to just two-and-a-half hours have been unveiled in Paris.
The 3000mph hypersonic jet, codenamed ZEHST, would travel 20 miles up in the sky and cut the journey time from the minimum 11 hours 20 minutes it currently takes to reach Japan.
It could be in the skies within a decade, with commercial flights at four times the speed of sound pencilled in for 40 years-time.
New York would take less than an hour-and-a-half, while popular holiday destinations in southern Europe like Nice or Malaga would take a few minutes.
A computer-generated handout image of the 'Zero Emission Hypersonic Transportation'
The model of an Airbus A 350 XWB on the EADS stand at Le Bourget airport near Paris this weekend
Even the journey to Sydney, Australia, which currently take the best part of 24 hours, would be cut to around three-and-a-half.
‘I imagine that this is the plane of the future,’ said Jean Botti, of European space agency EADS, as he unveiled the project the day before the Paris Air Show opens.
ZEHST stands for Zero Emission Hypersonic Transportation, which effectively means that the plane will cause no pollution whatsoever, said Mr Botti.
Instead it will be powered by oxygen and hydrogen, which will produce an exhaust made of nothing but water vapour.
Its cruising altitude will be 20 miles up, compared to the 32,000 odd feet which passenger jets reach today.
Take-off engines will be powered by biofuel made from seaweed, before rocket engines are used at altitude.
The plane is not expected to be operational until around 2040, according to EADS officials
‘There will be no pollution because the plane will be in the stratosphere,’ said Mr Botti, pointing out that the plane will glide back to earth on no engines before they are reignited to land.
Mr Botti added: ‘It will be flying at the edge of space. It won’t be a rocket. It won’t be a plane. It will be a rocket-plane.’
The multi-billion pounds project will see between 50 and 100 passengers being able to use the ZEHST at one time, with its first commercial flight already estimated for around 2050.
A 16ft replica of the plane, which is being built in collaboration with Japanese engineers, will be inspected by French President Nicolas Sarkozy at Le Bourget airport in Paris.
EADS, which is based in Toulouse, south west France, sees a gap in the airline market following the demise of the Concorde supersonic planes, which were an Anglo-French project.
They were taken out of service following a horrific crash in Paris in July 2000, but EADS is confident that ZEHST will be far safer.
The Zehst looks like a larger version of Concorde and will be at least twice as fast – travelling at Mach 4 compared to Concorde’s Mach 2.
‘It’s not Concorde, but it looks like Concorde,’ said Mr Bottin. ‘It shows that the aerodynamics of the 1960s were very smart.’
Mr Bottin said that the Zehst flying above the atmosphere, and using biofuel to get there, would get rid of the supersonic boom sound and heavy pollution which Concorde was notorious for.
Ramjet engines, which are currently used in missiles, will get the plane up to its cruising altitude.
As with Concorde, all of the Zehst passengers will be first class ones, with seats costing well into four figures, if not five to begin with.
The Concorde project, which ran between 1969 and 2003, cost well over 1 billion pounds, with a 1977 Concorde worth around 25 million.
Those figures can probably be multiplied by around 10 for the Zehst project, said aviation industry sources gathering in Paris for the airshow.