Over @NRO, Josh Gelernter is far too credulous of Airbus’s announcement of a supersonic transport:
In April 1976, Congress banned supersonic passenger planes from landing in the United States. The ban was overturned by the courts in 1977, after it was pointed out that the Concorde — which flew at subsonic speeds around the airport — was in fact quieter than conventional jets. Never mind: Like irrational fears about nuclear power or GMOs or vaccines, sonic-boom panic sustained anti-Concorde campaigns, which successfully throttled its business. When the Concorde was announced, airlines around the world placed combined orders for more than a hundred planes. By the time it made its first flight, a quarter of the orders had been withdrawn. By the time the production line was up and running, three-quarters of the remaining orders had been canceled. Only 20 Concordes were actually built; all 20 were bought by the British and French governments, which had paid for the Concorde’s development. They were flown by BOAC and Air France.
When Pan Am launched the first transatlantic passenger flights in 1939, a round-trip ticket cost $675 — which is about $11,000 in today’s money. Clipper flights were even more exotic than Concorde flights; nonetheless, within a few decades, they had driven ocean liners out of business. Because so few Concordes made it into service, service prices never came down, part prices never came down, operation never became routine. In 2003, the Concorde died, and mankind did something it does rarely: It took a step backward.
Concorde’s problem was not laws against supersonic overland flight, but very high operating costs, and limited range, due to the excessive wave drag. The real market for supersonic flight is transpacific, but Concorde could barely make it across the Atlantic. The initial orders were probably based on overoptimistic estimates of costs, and once reality sunk in, the orders dried up.
And to equate a commercial aircraft with Apollo and our later abandonment of lunar capability is a category error, unless he meant that in both cases they were economically unsustainable, in which case, it was best to end them.
So thank God for Airbus. Finally we — as a species — are back on track. Actually, Airbus isn’t the first aerospace firm to talk about bringing back supersonic passenger flight — but it’s the biggest and the most credible. An Airbus neo-Concorde is downright plausible. The new Airbus design, we’re told, will be able to fly from London to New York in one hour — two and a half hours quicker than the Concorde. Its top speed will be 2,500 mph to Concorde’s 1,350. And, for the hippies, it will have boom-dampeners, so the noise won’t bother western Long Island, and so it will be able to fly overland. Of course, the one, big, nagging problem is that Airbus is an Anglo-French company. Are we going to take that? I’m sure Boeing and Lockheed and Grumman all have e-mail addresses.
Key words: “…we are told…”
A 2500 mph aircraft will need much more exotic materials than the Concorde did to handle the high skin temperature, and its fuel consumption will be horrific, again with limited range. Note that there’s no mention of transpacific, it’s again just a faster way to get from New York to Europe. Its market would be just as, if not more limited than Concorde. I think that this is marketing hype (like Boeing’s Sonic Cruiser a few years ago). And he doesn’t seem to be aware of changes in the industry. “Grumman” is now Northrop Grumman, and it’s a company that has zero legacy of building a commercial transport. “Lockheed” is Lockheed Martin, and it got out of the airliner business in the late seventies, after the commercial failure of the L-1011 Tri-Star. The notion that either of them are going to get in against Boeing with a supersonic transport is a flight of fancy. I am working on a concept that might make supersonic flight practical, but I see nothing about Son of Concorde that would do so.