Auckland to LA in two hours: Boeing reveals more about hypersonic plans

Boeing has revealed further details on its plans for hypersonic aircraft, which will be capable of flying anywhere in the world in mere hours.

The planes would fly at a speed of Mach 5, which is around 5800km/h or 1.6km per second.

Flying at such a rapid pace would mean getting from Auckland to Los Angeles in less than two hours, or Christchurch to London in under three-and-a-half.

Passengers won't feel the extra speed, says Boeing, but the normal acceleration you feel as a current plane takes off would last for a longer period - about 10 or 12 minutes - as the hypersonic aircraft gets to its higher speed and altitude.

Boeing's chief scientist for hypersonics, Dr Kevin G Bowcutt, says the immense speed can be achieved through new engine technology.

"Going that fast, you can't use just a traditional turbo fan or turbo jet engine," says Dr Bowcutt.

"It's what we call a combined cycle engine; it combines two different cycles, one of which is the turbine. We envisage this to have a derivative of a commercial airplane engine, a modified turbo fan.

"But we add an extra element - in this case, it's a ramjet engine."

Dr Bowcutt says flying at low speeds means compressors have to generate propulsion - "but when you're going fast enough, just the motion through the air compresses the air, through shockwaves".

"At some speed, maybe Mach 2 or 3, we transition and bypass into the ramjet, which is basically an afterburner behind the turbo jet."

Dr Bowcutt says the plane's exterior will be made of advanced titanium to withstand heat at high speed and altitudes of 95,000 feet (29km).

He reckons the feeling of going so fast won't be very different to what subsonic commercial plane passengers feel as they take off.

Once that higher altitude has been reached, says Dr Bowcutt, passengers have something spectacular to look forward to.

"The other cool thing about the experience [is] flying that high, you'll see the curvature of the Earth below you and you'll see the black of space above you," he says.

"It'll be a pretty neat view... it will be amazing."

Though Boeing hasn't decided the hypersonic plane's final dimensions, it would be larger than a business jet but smaller than a 737, Dr Bowcutt says - which probably means it'd carry between 20 and 100 passengers.

The company says these planes could be ready to hit the market in 20 to 30 years, but a prototype may be ready in as little as five.