Gallery: MACH-5 A2: Fly Sydney to Brussels in 4hrs – Emissions Free!


In a hurry? Need to get from Sydney to Brussels in a dash? Not too far in the future you may be able to travel that entire distance in less than 4 hours – emissions free – thanks to an amazing hypersonic hydrogen jet project called LAPCAT. LAPCAT stands for Long-Term Advanced Propulsion Concepts and Technologie, and is funded by the European Space Agency. This type of hypersonic jet would put the Concorde to shame with it’s speed, and the best part is that it would not be powered by the typical fossil fuels, but instead by a much greener hydrogen alternative.

Supersonic aviation as a workable model may have ended prematurely with the death of the Concord, but that hasn’t stopped other people from attempting to bring back the concept of hypersonic civil transportation. The LAPCAT project is a study, funded by Europa General R&D, that seeks to determine whether or not it is possible to create a plane that can cover long distances in a very short amount of time. The result? The A2 Mach 5 Civil Transport Concept.

The concept has been developed by Reaction Engines, which was formed by Alan Bond, John Scott-Scott and Richard Varvill. It is made out of two different pieces of technology. The First one is a hydrogen powered engine concept which can power an airplane up to speeds of Mach 5, that is, five times the speed of sound. Why hydrogen? In order to achieve Mach 5, more power is needed than what would be commonly available from the common fossil fuels. The other innovation lies in the A2 Airframe. The Airframe is designed to withstand velocities that are five times the speed of sound, and carry up to 300 passengers. That’s a pretty remarkable feat if it actually manages to do that, and the environmental zero-emissions possibilities are just icing on the cake.

Unfortunately, too good to be true sometime is just that. But this might just be a case where a green dream is pretty close to reality. Needless to say, if this project comes to fruition it will change the concept of air travel forever.

+ Reaction Engines


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  1. paulfenn May 12, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    I noticed here there are some who wonder where we get the electrical current to split the hydrogen away from the oxygen – anyone ever here of fan turbines? With these speeds it would be an easy matter for turbines to use the wind velocities to generate electricity – they can be located and built into the design and they wouldn’t have to be monstrosities either – (an air born windmill)

  2. blog February 28, 2008 at 8:56 am

    No visions about the future in comments. W Wright , Cooke, etc must have their doubts about the future.Nothing ventured nothing gained.Pessimests are the insecticides of the future.
    samoht .

  3. popeye February 13, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Tidal power to generate the potential needed for hydrogen seperation, or geothermal, or solar or god forbid nuclear (with GTMHR maybe…) :0

  4. Bulldog February 11, 2008 at 5:34 am

    I think its great but who controls it? It might crash like concorde though.

  5. woozle February 11, 2008 at 5:30 am

    where the heck is the tailfin?!

  6. kjb February 7, 2008 at 3:57 am

    It’s not sub-orbital for a very good reason. To do that you need to carry the oxidiser with you and that increases the take-off weight to where a runway capable reusable craft with a reasonable payload becomes problematic.
    Also, liquid hydrogen is the probably the only choice of fuel for this due to it specific energy being greater than hydrocarbon fuels.

  7. Justin February 3, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    Pardon me, Correction, the windows wouldn’t blow out. The surface changes with having windows would put a lot of stress on the airframe at hypersonic speeds. The plane has to be virtually seamless in order to fly without damaging itself.

  8. Justin February 3, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    I don’t know about you, but I think this is a really cool concept for future airliners, even if the concept itself doesn’t go into production. Honestly though, I wonder why they’re aiming for such a high speed. Mach 5 is a pretty tall order for any aircraft, (Mach 2 or 3 would be more reasonable). The thing I heard about hydrogen not being produced cleanly and having a low energy density per unit of volume; these are all challenges to overcome, but I believe with time and research, these problems can be solved.

    Also, if anyone’s wondering, I asked my dad why they didn’t put windows on the plane, even for the cockpit. He said that the forces exerted on an aircraft at those speeds would deform a window so much that it would blow out in flight. (He was in the Air Force as a comm officer on the Looking Glass so he knows this kind of stuff). Save for maybe a bubble canopy in the cockpit, there would be no windows on a hypersonic airliner. Maybe they could put a line of imbedded cameras along both sides that link to flat-screen moniters on the interior so that people could still see outside.

  9. Joni January 25, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Looking on their website, it does seem to be from 2005. Has there been any updates up till now?

  10. Corey January 24, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Burning hydrogen way up there is far from “green”. When hydrogen is burned it produces water vapor. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas that’s more effective/dangerous than CO2. In other words, this is worse than regular jets for all intents and purposes.

  11. Kat January 24, 2008 at 6:31 am

    interesting discussion, although i can’t contribute much, but.. there’s someone in the world named John Scott-Scott? that’s all i got.

  12. Rassendyl January 24, 2008 at 3:30 am

    Now thats what I call SPEED.

  13. Daemon January 23, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    The engines exist, the have for a bit now (hello X-43), but they’re not likely to look anything like the pictures depicted here… nor is the amusing-to-the-point-of-ludicrous airframe.

    One of the big problems with such an airframe that I don’t think has been mentioned yet is acceleration/deceleration and noise pollution. You want it to go Mach 5? When? Not over your house, but the design needs to be very optimized to operate at those speeds so either you accept sonic boom over populated areas as it accels/decels, only fly it where it can do so over water, or figure out a whole field of hypersonics that allows for efficient slow-speed flight. Riiiight. Investors invest when the market is there (which it is), the technology is there (which it mostly is), and the REGULATIONS allow the darn thing to FLY and pay back its investment. Its a pricey lil’ bugger so someone’s gotta foot the bill.

    Nice fantasy though, does kinda look like that old Thunderbirds puppet show. The graphics weanie and I had a shared childhood, how sweet… only I grew up to actually do something besides produce ballyhoo navel-gazing pictures that distract from real progress in the field.

    Educate yourself:

  14. Josh January 23, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    @ Rich: In web comments, there is really nothing worse than a good criticism dripping with sarcasm and faux-politeness. Please avoid affectation. Thanks

    @ comments about the windows: I hate flying and I hate looking out the window at the wing/engine/ground. Doing everything you can to shorten my trip AND helping me avoid eye contact with what is around me is the biggest favor that the airline industry could do for me. Yay for supersonic beer cans!

  15. greg January 23, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Good comments. It is nice to see that many recognize that the use of hydrogen as a “fuel” is not, as inhabitat writes, “emissions free.” Someday (ah yes, “someday”) it could be, but hydrogen is not and will not for a long time be an emissions free energy storage medium.

    If i ran a deisel generator to pump water up behind a dam and then harvested the hydro energy, would we call that “emissions free?”

    If I burned coal to drive a giant fan and then harvested the wind for electricity would we call that “emissions free?”

    Until we can generate hydrogen solely and reliably from non-emitting sources, hydrogen use is NOT emissions free.

  16. mikeyb66 January 23, 2008 at 6:49 am

    It is twice as long as the A380 but carries less than half the number of passengers. :S Maybe its all taken up by those fuel tanks.

  17. curtcurt January 22, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    It’ll cost too much to build, therefore no company will build it.

    Maintenance would also be really expensive.

    The Arab airliners are probably the only ones rich enough to build such an airplane.

    I bet it would cost $1 billion-$2 billion per airplane if a handful are built.

    An Airbus A380 costs about $320 million each.

    A Boeing 787 is about $150 million

  18. Snark January 22, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    “I am curious how they solved the storage program, and the fact that hydrogen isn’t the cheapest fuel in the world.”

    “I am rather worried whether our bodies will be able to tolerate such extremely rapid acceleration/deceleration”

    “SO , er, how does the pilot see out of this sucker to take off and land it?”

    None of these criticisms make any sense whatsoever. I mean, no offense, they’re reasonable critiques of the design. But as I said above, this plane is not going to exist, and it’s not intended to exist. It’s something interesting to hypothetically stick the engine in, to get investor interest. The engine is the only part of this thing that will ever exist in any meaningful sense. Hypersonic transports make no commercial sense.

  19. Matt January 22, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    Did anybody used to watch thunderbirds – remember fireflash the atomic plane – theres certainly some similarity in the design – which means we should expect it to debut around 2065!

  20. Mark January 22, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    I can see it now..

    Canadian oil shale energy source belching pollution to generate electricity to generate the hydrogen.

    When there is an economical, clean way to generate hydrogen on a large scale I’ll sit up and take note.

  21. Me January 22, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    You can’t fly in conceptual pictures.

  22. sean January 22, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    Boeing first promised 4 hour flights in the mid 80s for half the globe. And where are we? Still pushing back 787 deliveries. Just because someone says “Oh hey let’s use hydrogen!” and makes a ray-traced illustration doesn’t make it a news story.

  23. Fred Thompson January 22, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    If we can only get George Bush and his administration a one ticket and ride to the moon on this LAPCAT… this would solve global warming in a matter of hours.

  24. dm January 22, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    @ Tom. Absolutely. sub orbital makes way more sense.


  25. Nick Simpson January 22, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    Mike – if they make a plane that can get me the other side of the globe in 4 hours, I don’t even care if there’s a light, let alone a window… Although I would prefer it!

    Alex and Mia are right though, we need to ensure we’re sourcing the hydrogen sustainably, which we’re currently a long way from doing.

  26. Jeremy January 22, 2008 at 3:50 pm


    I am sure going into orbit will actually save it gas in the long run due to the fact that if it were sub-orbit it would have to deal with more friction. Thus having to have the engines working harder to maintain the high speeds.

  27. Mat January 22, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    I am curious how they solved the storage program, and the fact that hydrogen isn’t the cheapest fuel in the world.

  28. Mike January 22, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    I saw this in Popular Science .. and the airplane designer pointed out one critical flaw in this design:

    No windows.

    People don’t want to fly in a beer can if they can’t see the earth below.

  29. Teal January 22, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    When is thing going to debut, 100 years from now? They can’t make a Chrysler that runs on hydrogen.

  30. Alex January 22, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Two big problems here:

    1.) Hydrogen isn’t really a fuel *source*, to get it in substantial quantities you need to do electrolysis, or by cracking natural gas, which just moves the pollution up the chain to the power plant, like an electric car.

    2.) “Why hydrogen? In order to achieve Mach 5, more power is needed than what would be commonly available from the common fossil fuels” The problem here is that while hydrogen does indeed have very high energy density per unit of mass, its energy density per unit volume is quite low. In this case, even liquid hydrogen, which requires cryogenic temperatures, you’re looking at 10MJ/L. Jet A, which has been around since the 1950’s, is good for 33MJ/L. As a result you not only need a bigger fuel tank for hydrogen, because you have to burn 3 times as much to release the same amount of energy, you also need much bigger engines, since the amount of fuel you can burn is directly linked to the amount of air passing through the engine (stoichiometric ratio)

    All in all, i’m not impressed.

  31. Charlie January 22, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    But you’re still going to have get to the airport 3 hours ahead of time for you international flight and then wait another 3 hours going through customs and getting your luggage. I’m betting it’s a lot cheaper to come up with a new airport check-in system then to buy a complete fleet of new hydrogen supersonic planes. There is little incentive for the average individual to spend a lot more money (tickets for a Mach 5 hydrogen jet are not going to be cheap) to get somewhere marginally faster.

  32. Amiya Sarkar January 22, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Kudos to the scientists who designed this plane. I am rather worried whether our bodies will be able to tolerate such extremely rapid acceleration/deceleration.

  33. Kenneth January 22, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    SO , er, how does the pilot see out of this sucker to take off and land it?

  34. Snark January 22, 2008 at 11:36 am

    I’d take this as a proof of concept, a sort of hypothetical technology demonstrator to get investors interested in the Scimitar engine. Will we ever see a vehicle like this actually produced for passenger transport? Highly doubtful; it would be a miracle if this became commercially viable. But I’d lay higher odds on seeing the engine produced – perhaps for a suborbital spaceplane, a next-gen space shuttle, or a military aircraft.

  35. Nick Simpson January 22, 2008 at 11:15 am

    I don’t think this is too good to be true – it simply looks like the further evolution of travel. The sooner the better I’d say.

  36. Mia January 22, 2008 at 11:10 am

    True, burning hydrogen fuel produces no emissions at the tailpipe. However, hydrogen fuel is really only as green as the method used to produce it. It takes electricity to split water into hydrogen (fuel) and oxygen, so the important question is where is that electricity coming from to produce the fuel in the first place? If its coming from a fossil fuel burning power plant, there really isn’t a net emissions reduction at all.

    Hydrogen fuel is talked about like its the silver bullet of our transportation problems, but the dialog needs to include discussion about how we will manage the greater energy economy that produces such alternative fuels (this is true for ethanol and other biofuels, too). I don’t mean to be negative, but any solution really needs to consider the whole system. A piecemeal approach risks unintended consequences.

  37. Rich January 22, 2008 at 10:35 am

    And how will you be reforming the hydrogen required for escape velocity, with a windmill? Stratospheric travel does have some potential efficiencies, but hydrogen does not = green until we can find a way to separate sufficient hydrogen using renewables. Please avoid hyperbole. Thanks.

  38. Tom January 22, 2008 at 8:21 am

    Why waste gas pushing through the atmosphere at such speeds?
    If you want to go fast, go sub-orbital.

  39. Thomas Moon January 22, 2008 at 8:11 am

    Maybe they could focus on the zero emissions withought having to go mach 5 :)

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