An Opportunity for Hydrogen Fueled Supersonic Airliners
Alex Forbes, Anant Patel, Chris Cone, Pierre Valdez, Narayanan Komerath
This paper takes a new look at the prospects for developing supersonic civil airliners, considering global demographics, climate change issues, fuel prices and technological advances. Dramatic changes have occurred in the demographics, economics, and market intensity of the Eastern Hemisphere since the 1990s. Carbon reduction imperatives provide a major incentive to invest in developing hydrogen-fueled airliners. The “point-to-point” air route architecture has proved viable with long range mid-size airliners. With a cruise Mach number of 1.4, a large number of destinations become viable for overland supersonic flight. A conceptual design process is used to estimate cost per seat mile for a range of hydrocarbon and hydrogen fuel costs. An argument based on the ideal shape for minimal wave drag, estimates the drag penalty from using hydrogen. Viable aircraft geometries are shown to exist, that match the theoretical ideal shape, showing that the drag estimate is achievable. Conservative design arguments and market estimates suggest that hydrogen-fueled airliners can achieve seat-mile costs low enough to open a large worldwide market and justify a viable fleet size.