Oz in 3 hours? Plans for hypersonic 3,000 mph plane unveiled

Ruth Doherty

Plans for an environmentally-friendly 'rocket-plane' that could cut flying time from London to Tokyo to just two and a half hours have been unveiled in Paris.

The jet, codenamed ZEHST, would fly at 3,000 mph at 20 miles up in the sky, and would cut the journey time from the minimum 11 hours 20 minutes it currently takes to reach Japan.

Trips to New York would take less than an hour, while popular holiday destinations in southern Europe like Nice and Malaga would take just a few minutes.

Even the journey to Sydney, Australia, which currently takes the best part of 24 hours, would be cut to around three-and-a-half.

The bad bit? It won't be ready for approximately 40 years.

'I imagine that this is the plane of the future,' said Jean Botti, of European space agency EADS, as he unveiled the project the day before the Paris Air Show opens.

Mr Botti explained that ZEHST stands for Zero Emission Hypersonic Transportation, which effectively means that the plane will cause no pollution whatsoever.

Instead it will be powered by oxygen and hydrogen, which will produce an exhaust made of nothing but water vapour.

Its cruising altitude will be 20 miles up, compared to the 32,000 odd feet which passenger jets reach today.

Take-off engines will be powered by biofuel made from seaweed, before rocket engines are used at altitude.

There will be no pollution because the plane will be in the stratosphere,' said Mr Botti, pointing out that the plane will glide back to earth on no engines before they are reignited to land.

Mr Botti added: 'It will be flying at the edge of space. It won't be a rocket. It won't be a plane. It will be a rocket-plane.'

The multi-billion pound project will see between 50 and 100 passengers being able to use the ZEHST at one time, with its first commercial flight already estimated for around 2050.

A 16ft replica of the plane, which is being built in collaboration with Japanese engineers, will be inspected by French President Nicolas Sarkozy at Le Bourget airport in Paris.

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