Trying To Go Supersonic 60 Years Later

Chuck Yeager sits in cockpit of jet test aircraft, 1948/6/1
AP
Sixty years ago, the sky had a speed limit, 762 miles per hour to be exact - the speed of sound.

On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager became the first to break the sound barrier, a moment Hollywood recreated in the movie "The Right Stuff."

Yet, as CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell reports, supersonic transport never proved practical for the masses.

The Concorde offered supersonic passenger service for the elite. But it succumbed to sky-high operating costs and a ban on supersonic flights over land. Sonic booms - those thunderous pressure waves created by supersonic flight - proved intolerable.

"Politicians particularly are very afraid of the impact of a sonic boom sweeping across their constituency," says Guy Norris, the editor of Aviation Week.

But now, four years after Concorde's final flight, there are plans for a new generation of supersonic aircraft.

"Literally in the last two or three years, the call for a supersonic business jet has gained some traction," Noris says.

The QSST - or Quiet Supersonic Transport by Supersonic Aerospace International - could ferry Fortune 500 executives between New York and L.A. in just two hours.

"They are willing to pay any price, so looking ahead it's almost inconceivable that someone would not build a jet to cater to this crowd," says aviation industry analyst Richard Aboulafia.

Aerion Corporation claims their 12 seat design would have the same operating cost as conventional jets, but before these planes can fly popular routes engineers must silence sonic booms.

A possible solution is "Quiet Spike," a joint project between NASA and jet maker Gulfstream. A retractable spike attached to the nose of the plane pierces the pressure wave.

(AFP/Getty )
"To the point that if you were on the patio having a barbeque, you probably would not hear the aircraft passing above at 60,000 feet," says Gulfstream's Robert Baugniet.

If supersonic business jets succeed, experts predict the return of commercial supersonic flight could follow sometime around 2030.

"There is still a need for speed," Norris says, "Not only for business travelers but down the road potentially for an airliner as well."

Analysts figure there's a market for 400 supersonic business jets at a cost of about $80 million a piece. That's the same cost as a commercial jet that seats 200 people.