With Concorde’s final touchdown on an airfield in southwest England, the era of supersonic commercial flight came to an end two decades ago.
Conceptually at least, many contenders to the throne—supersonic, hypersonic, hydrogen-powered, with anti-boom technology—have been whizzing around in recent years. However, many of these projects that promised seamless superfast travel have instead stalled, failed to materialize, or experienced delays.
Now, a hypersonic startup in Europe is trying, promising journey times as appealing as four hours and fifteen minutes from Frankfurt to Sydney or three hours and thirty minutes from Memphis to Dubai.
The Destinus idea is hydrogen-fueled trip at multiple times the speed of sound, slicing flight length to under a fourth of current business air travel.
Destinus was founded in 2021 and has been rapidly achieving milestones, despite having its headquarters in Switzerland and a team of approximately 120 employees spread out across Spain, France, and Germany. Its initial two models have made effective practice runs and are going to begin testing hydrogen-controlled flight. By the end of the year, Destinus 3, its third prototype, will take off for the first time.
The business development manager for the company, Martina Löfqvist, spoke with CNN via video call to talk about the model and why the team hopes it will be the one to finally usher in a new era of hypersonic travel.
According to Löfqvist, “there are different approaches to doing this.” Boom Supersonic, for example, “focuses more on the development of the mockups and understanding how it works and trying to get these piloted aircraft working, we’re going directly to autonomous flights,” in contrast to other top contenders in the field. “Develop smaller-sized drones before we scale it up to become a large pilot-driven or passenger-carrying aircraft,” is the strategy.
Hydrogen is the fuel of choice for Destinus because it is a clean, renewable energy source, getting cheaper to make, and can help it achieve its speed and long-term goals. Aviation powered by hydrogen is still in its infancy, and commercial use of hydrogen jet engines has not yet begun. According to Airbus, flight testing of its hydrogen jet engine will begin in 2026.
According to Löfqvist, “we try to go very, very ultra-long range with our vehicles,” and one of those goals is to fly at Mach 5 from Europe all the way to Australia. Utilizing lamp oil implies that the vehicle would turn out to be very weighty, while hydrogen is extremely light in examination.” Additionally, hydrogen has a higher energy density than standard jet fuel.
While hydrogen production is still expanding, the short-term plan is to power takeoff with Jet A, a conventional aviation fuel, until they reach speeds around Mach 3, “because hydrogen doesn’t really become useful or better than Jet A until you get up to supersonic speeds.” The long-term objective is to be completely powered by hydrogen and emission-free.
The Destinus prototypes are waverider-shaped blended-body planes, a hypersonic design first proposed in the 1950s but never built. The company’s Swiss/French heritage is reflected in paintwork that was inspired by the Alps.
According to Löfqvist, the now-common shape has “been studied for many, many, many years.” You will be able to ride on top of the vehicle’s shock waves thanks to this feature. Because there is less air resistance, it is a pretty efficient shape and you can fly through it with less fuel.
Normally, with each new model Destinus is refining and changing the plan. Twenty years from now, the group expects the specialties it’s working with to appear to be somewhat unique from the models it’s trying at this point.
The impending model, Destinus 3, will be supersonic and the expectation is for it to accomplish supersonic hydrogen-fueled trip in 2024. ” According to Löfqvist, “This is a pretty massive vehicle.” Although it is roughly the same length as the previous prototype at around 10 meters, it is ten times heavier and probably twenty times more complicated in terms of its structure and propulsion system.
The company hopes to be able to launch a smaller aircraft capable of carrying approximately 25 passengers by the 2030s. This aircraft will have a limited range and solely cater to business class passengers.
Its fully expanded version will have multiple classes, including economy, by the 2040s. They anticipate that “hydrogen prices will drop significantly, so that we can then reduce the prices of the flights, significantly as well, for these ultra-long-range flights” by that point.
Although Löfqvist freely admits that it is not in control of the hydrogen market, experts within and outside the company have advised that they anticipate prices to fall. The company’s plans are heavily dependent on the market’s whims.
Last month Destinus procured Dutch organization OPRA, presently named Destinus Energy. “This means that we can have revenues already this year, because they already have gas turbines that are being built and sold,” Löfqvist states. We’ll have now that hypersonic plane aviation side, yet we’ll likewise have a portion of these energy viewpoints inside the organization too.”
Destinus hopes that this additional revenue will help it weather the difficulties that have caused other supersonic and hypersonic projects to fail. In addition to the private investment and public funding it has already received, Destinus secured grants from the Spanish government in April 2023 worth 26.7 million euros (29.4 million dollars) to expand its hydrogen propulsion capabilities. Löfqvist emphasizes that, “now that the funding environment is a bit tougher,” the company wants to take a “realistic” approach.
In May 2021, Nevada-based Aerion, a major contender in the race to build the first supersonic passenger jet, declared that “in the current financial environment, it has proven hugely challenging to close on the scheduled and necessary large new capital requirements.” Aerion was based in Nevada.
There may be a few technological, environmental, and financial obstacles to overcome before we can hop on hypersonic jets, eat breakfast in Shanghai, and arrive in Sao Paulo just after lunch in the 2040s. However, it won’t stop you from trying.