The Future of Flying


An artist’s rendition of Spike S-512. Aircraft image: Spike Aerospace

If business travelers could reach destinations around the world in half the time currently required, that would translate into huge time savings. Cutting international travel time by 50% is possible via supersonic flight but since the Concorde was grounded in 2003 due to high maintenance costs and falling passenger numbers, the aerospace industry hasn’t seen any supersonic planes take off.

Now Boston-based engineering firm Spike Aerospace is aiming to bring supersonic travel back by developing a business jet, the Spike S-512, which will be capable of flying from NYC to London in 3-4 hours instead of 6-7 hours and LA to Tokyo in 8 hours instead of 11-12 hours.

“There is a market demand for increased speed,” says Vik Kachoria, the founder of Spike Aerospace, who travels a lot to Africa, Asia, and Europe for investment opportunities but doesn’t go as often because of the long travel times. “A supersonic jet will help businesses manage operations and make investments more dynamically. It will bring them closer to their customers, more often,” he says.

The supersonic jet will fly passengers in high luxury and feature a windowless passenger cabin. Image: Spike Aerospace

Windowless Cabin

Aircraft typically fly at 0.8-0.85 mach. Boeing’s 747 in the 1960s flew at 0.85 mach and the newest 747 Dreamliner also flies at 0.85 mach. “The current fastest jet around for business use is Gulfstream G650, which can go at Mach .875. Our aircraft is designed to fly at 1.6 mach, which is twice the speed of any other aircraft out there, hence reducing the air travel time to about half,” says Kachoria.

Measuring at 40 m (131 ft) long with a wingspan of 18 m (60 ft), the Spike S-512 will carry 12- 18 passengers in high luxury and will cost $60-80 million. The jet will also feature a windowless passenger cabin. Instead, the interior walls will be covered with thin display screens which can either display the view outside, or can be used to show a movie or presentation.

According to Kachoria, the engineers working on the Spike’s supersonic jet have a lot of experience designing and building aircrafts at Airbus, Boeing, Eclipse, Gulfstream, and NASA. “Through their combined experience, we designed a concept level aircraft,” he says.

Kachoria’s team currently has a concept design and is moving toward preliminary design stage, which involves more detailed engineering. “We have at least another year and a half of engineering to do. After that we will do some initial test modeling and wind tunnel tests. We want to complete R&D, building, and testing by 2020,” he says.

Noise Challenge

There are still some daunting challenges for supersonic flight including FAA’s requirements for an aircraft to be certified. “It will be a challenge to find the right engine that will work on a supersonic jet to meet the engine noise requirement,” says Kachoria, but he is confident that his engineering team will work through all the challenges.

FAA has also imposed restrictions that don’t allow supersonic planes to fly over land because of the sonic boom, the disruptive sound produced when a plane breaks the sound barrier. Eliminating the sonic boom or reducing it to acceptable levels is a huge challenge. Solving this problem is required before aircraft can fly over populated areas. “As long as you can fly subsonic on land, supersonic on water with reasonable fuel efficiency, and land on an interior airport, you have fulfilled the requirement,” informs Kachoria. This is an issue, however, that the aerospace industry needs to address to make supersonic travel common.

Spike Aerospace is not the only company designing supersonic flights. Aerion Corporation and HyperMach Aerospace are two other startups developing private supersonic jets. Some companies are also looking at suborbital tourism and few others are considering hypersonic travel (five times faster than the speed of sound), which means being able to fly NY-LA in an hour and a half. “That’s the future of flying,” says Kachoria.

It will be a challenge to find the right engine that will work on a supersonic jet to meet the engine noise requirement.

Vik Kachoria,
CEO, Spike Aerospace


May 2014

by Chitra Sethi, Managing Editor,