The Future of Air Travel

Why can’t I just get on a plane and go from,
like, Montana to London, in a couple hours? I just want to experience the thrill of zooming
through the sky faster than the speed of sound? Well, if you flew on a Concorde jet back before
they were grounded — or you happen to be a fighter pilot — then you’ve probably
experienced faster-than-sound travel. And, some companies are looking to make supersonic
flight a reality again, with new commercial planes that travel faster than the speed of
sound. And someday, you might be able to fly over
the Atlantic Ocean in an hour — or even less. Problem is, most people don’t want to fly
on a plane that feels like an out-of-control rocket. And there’s also the problem of faster-than-sound
planes becoming ridiculously hot and unbearably loud. So engineers have some developing to
do. On the morning of December 17th, 1903, Orville
Wright became the first human to successfully pilot an airplane — a heavier-than-air vehicle
that was controlled, powered, and sustained. His flight lasted 12 seconds, and crossed
120 feet of a North Carolinian beach — with an average speed of almost 11 kilometers an
hour. By the end of the day, his brother Wilbur
flew the same airplane for almost a whole minute, with an average speed of almost 16
kilometers an hour. Less than a century later, in the 1970s, commercial
planes went supersonic — faster than the speed of sound. A few dozen supersonic planes were in regular
service, available in two models, the Concorde and the Soviet Tupolev. But the Tupolev only
made 55 passenger flights, from 1977 to 1978. And after a Concorde crashed in 2000, people
started to fly on them less. Eventually, they just weren’t financially
worth it anymore, and the planes were retired in 2003. 13 years later, there still aren’t any new
commercial faster-than-sound planes. But soon, there might be! There are just a
couple of improvements companies are trying to make first. The main challenge comes from getting past
what’s known as Mach 1. See, sound usually travels around 1230 kilometers
per hour, but that’s not a constant number — it depends on things like the temperature
and humidity of the air. So, when it comes to planes, it’s easier
to talk about speed in Mach numbers, which take into account the speed of sound in the
particular place where the plane is flying.. Mach 1 is just the speed of sound. Anything
slower than that is called subsonic, and anything faster is called supersonic. But switching from subsonic to supersonic
isn’t easy, because the plane has to overcome the infamous sound barrier. And that can be a problem, because the sound
barrier is sometimes strong enough to tear away at planes, and even send them crashing
to the ground. The sound barrier exists because of the way
sound waves travel: by compressing and stretching the air they travel through. The compressed air ends up at a higher pressure,
and the stretched air has lower pressure. As a plane moves, it produces sound waves
that shift the air back and forth, creating areas of lower and higher pressure. But as the plane gets faster, it starts to
catch up with those waves. New sound waves start to form on top of the
old sound waves, causing huge swings between higher and lower pressure air. Those differences in pressure can rattle and
shake planes like toys, and there’s a real danger of tearing them to pieces. Low pressure areas can also lead to drops
in temperature, condensing any moisture in the air and forming a visible cloud, sometimes
known as a vapor cone. The first plane that could get past the sound
barrier was the Bell X-1, built in 1947. It was designed to absorb 18 times the force
of gravity, and modeled after a machine gun bullet. It didn’t actually lift off from the ground
on the zone, though — it was dropped from a larger mothership plane, known as the B-29,
so it got a bit of a head start. By the mid-1970s, supersonic planes were ready
for commercial use — with the UK and France designing the concorde, and the Soviet Union
designing the Tupolev. The Concorde flew passengers from London to
New York in about three and a half hours — about half the time it would take in a plain old
subsonic commercial plane. But they only flew that one route, and there’s
a reason they spent as much time over the water as possible: the painfully disruptive
sonic boom. Like the sound barrier, sonic booms come from
a build-up of compressed sound waves, known as a shock wave. The shock wave heads away from the plane,
which you hear as a VERY loud boom — so powerful that they’re sometimes mistaken for earthquakes. And those sonic booms don’t just happen
once, like when a plane breaks the sound barrier. They continue throughout the entire supersonic
flight. That’s because the sound waves keep bunching
up behind the plane, then expanding outwards, creating a cone shape known as the Mach cone. So wherever the plane flies over land, people
hear that incredibly loud boom. So that’s why the Concorde’s supersonic
commercial flights only really happened between western Europe and eastern North America. If they flew over land, odds are people would
not have appreciated the booms. And even though you can’t fly on a Concorde
anymore, you might still be able to fly on a supersonic plane someday. NASA, for example, is looking into how to
dampen the effects of the sonic boom. One way to do that might be by moving one,
or even two engines above the wings, which would direct shockwaves upwards. So the sonic
booms would happen in the sky, rather than on the ground. Then there’s the Concorde 2, which Airbus
is working on. The Concorde 2 would first fly directly upward,
to an altitude of about 30 kilometers. Then, the plane would rotate its tail fin
in a way that would redirect the shock waves to be horizontal, so you wouldn’t feel them
as much on the ground. The Concorde 2 would be able to accelerate
up to Mach 4.5 — and at those speeds, it could take passengers from London to New York
in an hour. But maybe that’s not enough, what if you
want to go faster? The Concorde 2 would be very close to going
beyond supersonic, and into an even faster category, known as hypersonic. When people talk about hypersonic speeds,
they’re generally talking about Mach 5 or higher — more than five times the speed of
sound. Those speeds get their own category, because
that’s when the temperature of the plane becomes a bigger issue. The plane is flying through the air so quickly
that friction with particles in the air is a real problem, because it makes a lot of
heat. At hypersonic speeds, planes need to be able
to withstand temperatures over 1000 degrees celsius… but almost all of the more typical
metals would melt, or at least become very weak, at temperatures below that. The other challenge is the engine, because
a regular jet engine wouldn’t work. Standard, subsonic planes use large rotating
blades to compress incoming air, inject fuel, and then let it burn. Propelling them forward. At supersonic speeds, it becomes even easier,
because the high speeds already compress the air. In that case, the engine doesn’t even need
the blades — that’s what’s known as a ramjet engine. Ram, because the air is just rammed into the
engine. At hypersonic speeds, though, this plan doesn’t
work as well. Sure, the air is compressed, but it’s moving
so fast that there’s not enough time for it to combust and actually help move the plane. So hypersonic planes need their own fuel and
their own oxygen — which is what NASA used in the X-15, the first plane to reach hypersonic
speeds. It used a titanium skin to protect itself
from the extreme temperatures, and was able to fly at Mach 6.72. It also flew high enough that some of the
X-15 test flights are considered space flights. But the X-15 is not the kind of plane that
could be used commercially. For one thing, it burned through fuel so fast that it would
run out in less than two minutes. Also, pilots sometimes experienced 8 times
the force of Earth’s gravity, and most people wouldn’t consider that a comfortable business
trip. So, until engines became more efficient and
practical, commercial hypersonic planes are a long way from reality. And the scramjet
might be the answer. Scramjet engines work kind of like ramjets
do, but they’re designed to handle the faster-moving air. In testing, NASA’s found that they could
work at speeds up to Mach 15, at least in theory. There’s one big drawback, though: scramjet
engines only work at hypersonic speeds. The X-43A, for example, an unmanned test plane
that uses a scramjet, has to be accelerated above Mach 5 before it can fly on its own. It’s strapped to a booster rocket, which
is then loaded onto a subsonic plane. Alright, stay with me… The plane flies up to about 6 kilometers above
the ground, then releases the X-43A, along with the rocket, which gets to about 30 kilometers
up and to speeds of Mach 5. Then the X-43A can start its flight. So, it might be a while before hypersonic
planes are a practical way to get across the Atlantic. But a future where a trip to the other side
of the world involves flying faster than the speed of sound, without painful sonic booms
for the people on the ground? That might not be so far off. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow,
which was brought to you by our patrons on Patreon. Thank you patrons on Patreon. If you wanna become one of those people, you
can go to And don’t forget to go to
and subscribe!

100 Replies to “The Future of Air Travel

  1. So hang on, airbus is making a plane that can take off vertically to 30,000 feet, and can accelerate up to Mac four. Did they just invent Thunderbird two?

  2. Put everyone in a supersonic plane and give them all noise canceling headphones….noise is no longer an issue….
    Heat….fit AC.

  3. So many fictions overcome these effects with 'inertial dampeners' is there any science around these in development or are we firmly in the realm of science fiction?

  4. Actually Soviet spies stole designs for Concorde which they used to build the Tupolev. The plans were incomplete and Russian engineering inferior, so the Tupolev was noisy, uncomfortable and dangerous.

  5. "Rolling around at the speed of sound,
    Got places to go, gotta follow my rainbow,
    Can't stick around, have to keep movin' on,
    Guess what lies ahead, only one way to find out,

    Must keep on movin' ahead,
    No time for guessin', follow my plan instead,
    Trusting in what you can't see,
    Take my lead, I'll set you free,

    Follow me – set me free – trust me,
    And we will escape from the city,
    I'll make it through, follow,
    Follow me – set me free – trust me,
    And we will escape from the city,
    I'll make it through, prove it to you,
    Follow me…"

  6. Hello again from rural New Hampshire. How could you omit Colonel Charles (Chuck) Yeager? You mentioned his plane and slighted him. Peace and be safe

  7. SOUTH AFRICAN AIRLINES is the best airline in this world. It very beautiful travel senter I like it very much it has many more fasalaty so people like it . For this more information visit this site :

  8. Where are the sonic booms actually be produced after the plane crosses the sound barrier? I mean the plane isn't very small for the sonic booms to be produced after the plane body ends.
    Secondly why can't we use longer RAMJETs for hypersonic travel?
    P.S: I know this video is 2 years old but please clear me these question.

  9. Still rather curious to see the calculations of nuclear powered high-altitude scramjet. Granted, I wouldn't want a modern day Flying Crowbar to even hit a runway, but still…

    How fast could you go with that much heat, that little air resistance, and that much atmosphere consumption? To my knowledge, scramjets produce more thrust the faster they get, and when you're using nuclear temperatures to generate propulsion…

    …Mach starts 15 sounding pretty tame.

  10. Nature: Legs
    Humans: Faster. Horses.
    Nature: Fine, horses.
    Humans: Faster! Engines!
    Nature: Calm down, humans.
    Humans: FASTER!! AIR ENGINES!!
    Nature: whAT!?
    Humans: F A S T E R H Y P E R S O N I C S P E E D

  11. Or you could make it affordable? I cannot afford to fly ever. Ive been on a plane enough times to count on my fingers.

  12. We just need to invent a plane to go really high and stay in one place and wait for the Earth to move and then to land down to the destination 😂

  13. A major problem with hypersonic travel is that if the air gets slowed at the inlet, it compresses and gets so hot that the nitrogen reacts with the oxygen in the air, and you get nitrogen oxides formed. These are highly polluting and their formation wastes a whole bunch of energy. The end result is that normal jets don't work at hypersonic speeds at all well. The practical ways around this are scramjets that don't slow the air so much- it goes through the engine supersonically, and rockets which don't slow the air at all.

  14. I think supersonic flights would be better received on transpacific flights, like between Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, or Vancouver to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sydney, or Seoul where flights can take more than half a day.

  15. I would like to point out that the fastest manned aircraft on record, the SR-71 Blackbird with a fastest recorded speed of Mach 3.35, had hybrid engines that used turbojets when flying at subsonic speeds, but could also function as ramjet at supersonic speeds.
    Also, due to the mentioned high temperatures at high speeds, the Blackbird was designed so pieces of it were loose while on the ground (including fuel lines, meaning it leaked gasoline like crazy), but once it got up to Mach 3, the heat expanded the metal enough to fill those gaps.

  16. This episode's so cool, I had a big kid smile on my face all the way through. It would be so amazing of even Concorde speeds were brought back because is love to go to Tasmania so much because there's glowing algae in the sea at night over there but getting there from the UK would tale about 14 hours on regular shitty planes.

  17. Just using prior knowledge, wouldn't a bit wider and thinner planned (made of a carbon based substance or coating) be better for travel than current planes?

  18. Sounds like NASA is a bunch of geek-like children spending daddies money to have fun. Kinda like those kids with diesel trucks who use daddies money to make them have more power. Ultimately… They still both have the same thing in common, all of that money and with is wasted with no practical uses.

  19. Wright brothers did not created an airplane, but an assisted – take off aircraft. They were the first to fly in a havier than air vehicle, but Santos Dumont created the first airplane

  20. The only thing they should come up with is getting a closed sound proof compartment for kids and their parents, so other passengers can peacefully travel

  21. Eventually with massive altron energy TARDIS will exist. Perhaps the Airframe will have many cavities till then without needing such a subatomic realm engineer to tune it. I like the idea of utilising the entire existance in time rather than a localised very stressful weak force penetrator of atomic elemental bonding . Mosern scIence is all we have though so I expect the larger proct companies will be Boeing ,Airbus, Space X in the Atlantic Region then perhaps BRICS nations. There could be suprises from smaller shaholder dependancies.

  22. Corrections: there is an inset that says X-72 instead o X-15.
    The X-15 was not titanium, it was made from a special class of inconel developed for it Inconel X.

  23. Yes, a very good video made about traveling, on airplanes you can really quickly fly across the continent and be anywhere in the world. But to be honest, I love to travel by car, there are many reasons why it is better to travel by car now.

  24. I like how we're wasting billions on these non-practical supersonic planes using American tax dollars of which 50% of us live paycheck to paycheck. Cus priorities…

  25. Wright brothers haha , they were basically slingshoted in the air , SANTOS DUMOND that dude is the real 1°first one

  26. Could a plane using a scramjet simply have two conventional jet engines and either one (in the middle) or two (on the sides scramjets?

  27. Nit picker moment – the F86 was able to break the sound barrier in a shallow dive ( and is argued to have done it before Yeager. And the X1 did once take off on its own power (

  28. it will be for rich folks only, and will leave a huge carbon foot print, thus the rich will find another way to screw over everybody else

  29. Am i the only person that had an image of Wiley E Coyote trying to fly the atlantic with an acme rocket when they saw the x43-a on it's booster rocket??

  30. I feel I have to yell this because it was glossed over in the episode:
    And other factors, but seriously, Mach 1 at 8,000m is VERY different from Mach 1 at sea level.

  31. Oh you mean modern science can get you in the air on a hypersonic flight? Talking on a cell phone? And flat earthers can do what? They can't even explain it.

  32. Sorry but when you include the cost of developing, the purchase and operation costs the Concord never made any money. So let's say it was worth it for advancement but in the whole it lost money. Yet a great plane.

  33. Ever heard of a guy called Richard Pearce? He flew before the Wright brothers but didn’t have the funding to complete a controlled flight or take the photographer 1902-3 i think.

  34. My thing is, why aren't they using ceramic tiling for the heat problem?? They're both cheap and effective for a heat sponge. Then again they can get really hot and end up melting something, and add extra weight

  35. Just had an air show take place near my house this weekend. Last week I could hear these loud, continuous booms. Couldn't see any planes but the sound came from that direction of the airport. It sounded like thunder, or what I would imagine an earthquake to sound like. After watching this video, I'm assuming it was jet planes entering supersonic speeds during their practice flights! It was amazing how loud it was. I felt like the entire sky was going to crack open.

  36. Do you speak without incredibly irritating inflection in real life? If so I'm guessing you're single or paired with a deaf person. Your content is pretty good but listen to the way that you speak is akin to putting an ice pick through one's Temple. tone it down a bit.

  37. This video has nothing to do with the future of air travel. it's all about past air travel. Yeah I'm done watching this guy's videos.

  38. In my opinion you should not refer to the Russian plane as "the Tupolev" That's like referring to the A380 as "the Airbus".

    Tupolev is the aerospace company that made it, the aircraft is named Tu-144.

  39. What about fuel efficiency?
    I both know and understand that you have to leave a lot of stuff out in order to keep the video more easily digestible. But that's a big thing to keep out, and it would have had sufficed to merely mention the difference in % between them.
    Otherwise a great vid! 👍

  40. Wrong! bad theory Hank! The sonic booms do not come from THE ENGINES AND MOUNTING THE ENGINES ON TOP WOULD NOT ELIMINATE OR REDUCE THE SOMIC BOOMS! The booms come from the aircraft moving at or over Mach 1.

  41. Wrong again Hank! It is not friction that heats the plane, there is just too little air molecules for friction to be a factor. It is the compression of whatever air there is that causes the heating!

  42. How about quantum teleportation , which makes you disappear in Canada an reappear in south Korea , in maybe a few minutes !!!

  43. Trump just authorized an additional billion dollars for Lockheed -Martin to developed a hypersonic airplane.Fox News reported that a C929 was tested on the JF-12 (mach 5 to mach 9 ) wind tunnel.The C929 can fly over the Pacific Ocean or Atlantic Ocean in less than two hours.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *