Remember Skreemr, a scramjet-based aircraft concept that could one day make transatlantic flights only 30 minutes long? Well Canadian engineer and the man behind Skreemr, Charles Bombardier, has recently come up with an even more innovative idea, in the form of the Antipode. This 10-seater concept jet relies on rocket boosters for take off, detaching them at a height of around 12 km and later, firing its powerful hypersonic engines to attain speeds of nearly Mach 24 (approx. 20,000 km/h). If turned into reality, the Antipode could transport passengers from New York all the way to London in under 11 minutes!
By comparison, its predecessor, the Skreemr, is envisioned as a four-winged scramjet, capable of carrying 75 passengers at speeds of up to Mach 10, which is nearly ten times faster the velocity of sound, and about five times that of the existing Concorde jets. When it comes to high-speed commercial aviation, scramjet systems might be the answer, as they are powered via the combustion of atmosphere-derived oxygen. Unlike conventional propulsion systems that carry liquid oxygen fuel, the supersonic-combustion ramjet functions on oxygen extracted from the surrounding atmosphere.
This, according to researchers, could pave the way for much lighter and faster planes. To be able to compress incoming oxygen properly, the aircraft needs to achieve really high speeds of over Mach 4. When traveling faster than the velocity of sound, however, the plane’s wings and nose need to be able to withstand the heat, structural stress and pressure of such conditions; an issue that Bombardier claims to have finally found a solution for. The new Antipode concept jet incorporates this solution into its incredibly-futuristic design. He said:
I was contacted by [Wyle engineer and former Department of Defense RIAC director] Joseph Hazeltine, who proposed using a novel aerodynamic phenomenon called ‘long penetration mode (LPM)’.
Compared to the Skreemr that uses a special magnetic railgun system for take off, the Antipode makes use of a pair of rocket boosters to launch into the air. Upon attaining speeds of around Mach 5 and an altitude of nearly 12 km, the jet releases the rocket boosters attached to its wings. When activated by means of an onboard computer, the scramjet engine will then propel the plane forward to speeds of up to Mach 24. To deal with the overheating problems, Bombardier says that the new aircraft can cool the system down with the help of strategically-located jets of air. He explained:
It would channel some of the air, flowing at supersonic speed, through a nozzle located on the nose of the aircraft, producing a counter-flowing jet of air that would induce LPM, which would in turn lead to a drop in surface temperature due to aeroheating and a reduction of the shockwave and noise caused by breaking the sound barrier.
It might be a while before the Antipode can make its first flight. As Bombardier points out, the LPM technology is best suited for spacecraft with very little exposed surface area. For the Antipode hypersonic jet to work, the developers need to come up with a better structural design, minus those colossal wings. Bombardier added:
The Antipode’s current configuration does not reflect an optimal shape in that regard.