Nelson Clyde's Is It Just Me: Time travel: Going supersonic

Published on Monday, 18 September 2017 14:05 - Written by NELSON CLYDE, 

My life involves a good bit of travel. A recent trip revealed a problem one would think is begging for a solution. The problem is with security at airports adding a good bit of time to the process of commercial air travel. The free market forces surrounding the situation usually solve such impediments. This is particularly befuddling since time is the most valuable commodity in our lives.

If you stop and think about it, the speed of airplane travel has not increased significantly since the 60s. In fact, the only thing that has significantly changed is the technology inside the planes and the efficiency at which they operate.

Sure we have Wi-Fi and TV screens on the headrests of many newer planes but what would be really nice is to be able to fly from Dallas to New York in, say, an hour.

While you might think a market exists for such demand, my Google search revealed the following answer on

Peter Kämpf, Trained aerospace engineer

Updated Apr 22 2016

Originally Answered: Can planes fly faster?

Airliners can fly a little faster but would consume disproportionally more fuel, and the most economical speed is actually a little slower than what most of them are designed for.

Going supersonic adds a new type of drag (called wave drag) and drives down fuel economy. The Concorde was an excellent design but could not compete once the oil price became a real factor after 1973. Therefore, commercial flying is still subsonic and will stay so for the foreseeable future.

The second generation of jet airliners (Boeing 707, DC-8) were designed for Mach 0.85. The increase in fuel prices since then would have driven down the most economical speed, but advances in aerodynamics have compensated for that and the maximum cruise Mach number is still at Mach 0.85. Please note that we are talking about the maximum cruise Mach number; all airliners will fly more economically at slightly lower Mach numbers between 0.78 and 0.82. Flying any faster than that will drive up drag disproportionally.

Now we need to define efficiency. For airliners this is haul capacity per time and can be expressed by the product of payload, range and speed. When none of the three constituents can be changed without making the product more costly to achieve, you have reached the point of best efficiency.

It appears we will remain at the status quo for a while which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Laurence Peter:

Nothing much happens until the status quo becomes more painful than change.