Virgin Galactic is working on a 9-19 passenger supersonic aircraft that would reach a speed of mach 3. The company is showing a concept and has reached a memorandum of understanding with Rolls-Royce for making the engines.
According to Virgin Galactic, the first concept phase has been completed and the company is now working on the further design under the supervision of the US aviation authority FAA. The intention is that Rolls-Royce will supply the engines for the supersonic aircraft. That manufacturer previously made the engines for the Concorde.
The supersonic plane, like the Concorde, has one delta wing-design. Virgin Galactic thinks it is possible to reach mach 3 and fly at an altitude of over 18km. The Concorde, the supersonic passenger jet in service between 1969 and 2003, reached a speed of mach 2 and flew at a similar altitude. With room for 9 to 19 passengers, the Virgin Galactic plane is much smaller than the Concorde, which could seat 92 to 128 people.
Virgin Galactic claims that the aircraft will use renewable jet fuel and that it could boost its use in the aviation industry. The company has completed the first concept phase and is now going to work on the design and determine which materials to use.
There is no formal agreement between Virgin Galactic and Rolls-Royce yet. The companies have reached a memorandum of understanding setting out their intentions. Such an agreement is not binding. Virgin does not provide a timetable for when the plane should be completed.
Virgin Galactic has already made a small supersonic airliner. That is the VSS Unity, which the company wants to use for space tourism. The VSS Unity is a SpaceShipTwo model, an aircraft that is launched into the air by a larger aircraft and then reaches sub-orbital space with a rocket engine. Virgin has had plans for such space tourism for years and has said it wants to start doing so this year, even though the company said it years ago and keeps postponing that deadline.
Virgin Galactic isn’t the only company working on a supersonic aircraft. The American Boom Supersonic has also been working on this for a number of years. That company wants to test its XB-1 in October this year. This is a 1: 3 scale model of the final aircraft, the Overture, which achieves mach 2.2 and gets 55 seats.