Posted Monday, March 19, 2012, at 5:12 PM
The failure of supersonic civilian jet transportation to function as a viable commercial enterprise is one of the signal stories of our era. In the 1960s, people took it for granted that the future would hold magically improvements in transportation technology. Instead, we went to the Moon and then stopped going. We broke the sound barrier, and couldn't sell tickets to the planes. And even though our cars have more and better gizmos than ever before, growing traffic congestion has made the basic transportation experience worse than ever.
Now here comes MIT's Qiqi Wang with an idea that he says could revive supersonic transportation, a biplane design that improves fuel efficiency and reduces the severity of the "sonic boom" effect. In principle, a plane like that could be used on overland routes (New York to Los Angeles, Dubai to Shanghai) or possibly pack enough fuel to fly trans-Pacific routes, either of which would go a long way to making the technology more commercially viable. Of course the road from a computer simulation of a new wing design to an actual airplane would be extremely long, but you've got to start somewhere.