A 2-year old's earliest memory is of flying across the Pacific. The weather was clear, so out the window we could see the waves thousands of meters below. Since then there have been innumerable flights across the ocean--10 hours from San Francisco to Tokyo, 14 hours from Los Angeles to Sydney! Even commuting from Hawaii to the mainland takes 5 hours. While sleeping on the long flight, we can dream of a better world.
It's the year 2008 and the woman is proud pilot of the Boeing 2707 supersonic transport. The plane is assembled in the Everett, Washington factory that also produced the 747. Unlike the aluminium-hulled Concorde, the plane's fuselage is made of titanium. Powered by 4 huge turbofan engines, we cruise to the edge of Space at three times the speed of sound!
On a typical day 300 passengers fly 6400 km in about 2 hours. One aircraft can fly two roundtrips in a day, doing the work of two subsonic planes. Since we fly across oceans, our sonic booms never reach land. At altitudes over 64,000 feet, we fly above 95% of Earth's atmosphere. Even at midday, the sky is dark and full of stars. We live in a world where little girls can dream about flying supersonic.
This mockup of a supersonic transport was built by Boeing in the late 1960's. When all the pieces were assembled, the plane was 90 meters long! Unfortunately, the SST fell victim to the times. Doubts were raised about sonic booms and the plane's effect on the ozone layer. The US Office of the Inspector General concluded that the plane would not be economically sound. In 1971 the US Congress ended funding for the SST.
Built with government aid, the Anglo-French Concorde flew until 2003. Unfortunately, the skyrocketing price of oil made the economic warnings come true. By the early 1970's Western nations had foolishly outsourced their energy production to the Middle East. With only 10 built, the Concorde never earned back its development cost. The Russian TU-144 was completely impractical and crashed at the Paris Airshow.
This SST may have been an idea ahead of its time. If the US, Britain and France had used more reliable sources of energy the story may have been different. It is thrilling to believe that people can build machines like this. For decades our commercial planes have been stuck in subsonic. On long flights across the Pacific, we still feel the need for speed.