Almost 75 years ago, U.S. Air Force pilot Chuck Yeager became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound. Engineers have been pushing the boundaries of ultrafast flight ever since, attaining speeds most of us can only imagine.
Today, military fighter jets like the F-15 routinely surpass Mach 2, which is shorthand for twice the speed of sound. That’s supersonic level. On a hypersonic flight — Mach 5 and beyond — an aircraft travels faster than 3,000 miles per hour. At that rate, you could make it from New York to Los Angeles on a lunch break.
The same propulsion technology that goes into rockets has made hypersonic speeds possible since the 1950s. But to make hypersonic flight more common and far less expensive than a rocket launch, engineers and scientists are working on advanced jet engine designs. These new concepts represent an enormous opportunity for commercial flight, space exploration and national defense: Hypersonic aircraft could serve as reusable launch vehicles for spacecraft, for example.