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Supersonic Without the Boom

The effort to build an airplane with a quieter sonic boom could let ordinary passengers break the sound barrier again.

It hasn’t flown in 15 years, but Concorde Alpha Foxtrot still looks like something from far in the future.

You’ll notice its striking and almost sensuous lines the moment you enter its museum home in Bristol, England. A sharply pointed nose gently widens to a slender fuselage and broad delta-shaped wings that dip slightly to the floor. Farther back, streamlined nacelles hide the massive engines and a raked tail fin towers above a rear end that tapers to another fine point. Though it was made in an era of slide rules and blueprints, Alpha Foxtrot remains a stunner.

If you’ve always regretted (hello!) not flying on the world’s only supersonic airliner to regularly carry passengers, all you can do today is sit in Alpha Foxtrot, or one of the other handful of Concordes in museums around the world, and watch the cabin Machmeter trip over Mach 1 (Champagne not included).

Yes, you’re just playing pretend, but keep your seat belt fastened. Several companies are now working to bring the dream of commercial faster-than-sound travel back to the flying public. The list includes startups and established aerospace firms like Lockheed Martin, but all have the same goal: design a supersonic airliner that’s cheaper, quieter and friendlier to the environment than Concorde while minimizing the troublesome effects of a sonic boom. It’s that last point that’s fraught with the most complications, and each company is going about it in different ways… but change is in the air, or at least sitting on the runway.

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