L.A. to Sydney in 3 hours? Could be, with a space-grazing hypersonic jet.

The passenger craft would achieve Mach 5 speeds – that’s five times the speed of sound – while flying just at the edge of space.

An artist's concept of the Paradoxal hypersonic jet, which would theoretically carry passengers through sub-orbit at Mach 5 speeds.

A new jet concept promises to take passengers halfway across the world in a few hours. But could it?

Imaginactive, a non-profit think tank founded by Canadian engineer and angel investor Charles Bombardier, has revealed a new hypersonic jet concept called Paradoxal. In theory, the passenger craft would achieve Mach 5 speeds – that’s five times the speed of sound – while flying just at the edge of space. This would cut down travel times significantly, completing the 14 hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney in just 3 hours.

“It’s obvious the world hungers for a quantum leap in faster global passenger transportation, and the Paradoxal aims to inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists in dreaming and building it in a not too distant future,” Mr. Bombardier, grandson of snowmobile pioneer Joseph-Armand Bombardier, wrote in The Globe and Mail.

The aircraft would be powered to Mach 3 by two rotary ramjet engines, which use forward motion to compress incoming air and create thrust. Then, at around 60,000 feet, the engines would be converted to internal-combustion rockets, bringing Paradoxal to sub-orbit at hypersonic speeds. The wings would be equipped with “Long Penetration Mode nozzles” to boost speed and help cool the craft on re-entry.

The jet, like many of Imaginactive’s concepts, isn’t in active development. But the idea is an attractive one, coinciding with a boom in aerospace technology. Private manufacturers, for example, are inching closer than ever toward viable space tourism and sub-orbital travel industries. The US military has also pushed the development of hypersonic technologies – not for travel, but for weaponry.

The X-51A Waverider, an unmanned scramjet aircraft developed by Boeing, struggled for success until 2013, when it sustained Mach 5 flight for more than three minutes. The US Air Force intends to incorporate the technology into hypersonic missiles by the mid-2020s.

Rowena Lindsay for The Christian Science Monitor reported:

These missiles are deployed from beneath the wing of bomber planes and can reach their target with extreme accuracy. They travel at Mach 5, five times the speed of sound, which could get you from New York City to Los Angeles in only 30 minutes.

In past tests, these speeds have caused the engine to melt, so current models are powered by a scramjet, a supersonic engine that, unlike a traditional engine, has few moving parts and instead utilizes an air-breathing propulsion system to keep cool.

These weapons, with unmatched speed and accuracy, would allow the military to carry out time-sensitive strikes. China and Russia have since launched their own programs in an effort to compete with American hypersonic technologies. Some observers worry that hypersonic missiles could inflame an international arms race, or that foreign nations might confuse them for nuclear weapons strikes.

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