Supersonic transport, like retired turbojet Concorde, can officially be considered old-school. Especially now that engineers have figured out a way to shuttle people across the Atlantic at hypersonic speeds of over 2,500 mph. Through vacuum suction tubes.
Travelers could soon be swapping their cramped mile-high economy seats for a speedy trip on the Vactrain, designed by U.S. engineer Darryl Oster of ET3, who claims it could transport people from London to New York in less than an hour. And from New York to Beijing in just two. The website describes the concept as "space travel on earth."
Through a combination of vacuum tunnels and magnetic levitation, Oster believes his capsules could wiz six people at a time through a 1.5 meter (5 feet) diameter tube to their destination.
Air is permanently removed from the two-way tubes that are built along a travel route. Airlocks at stations allow transfer of capsules without admitting air. Linear electric motors accelerate the capsules, which then coast through the vacuum for the remainder of the trip using no additional power. Most of the energy is regenerated as the capsules slow down.
Indeed, one could argue that the concept sucks, but in the best possible way.
Indeed, the idea is taking off so fast that Oster has already sold 60 licenses for the patented evacuated tube transport (ETT) technology, 12 of which were snapped up by Chinese entities.
Oster apparently believes he could have a full working system up and running within the next decade, and that it could even be cheaper to run than high speed electric trains, while using less power per passenger mile.
The engineer is apparently now focusing on how to increase passenger capacity in the capsules, and even believes he could get speeds of up to some 4,000 mph.
In comparison, Concorde had an average cruise speed of Mach 2.02, about 1334 mph, and the supersonic airliner burned two tons of fuel just taxiing to the runway.
The most complicated part of the whole endeavor would be building the oceanic tunnel at a certain fixed depth.
But can people handle the forces of going that fast? The engineers behind the project say yes. According to the ET3 website, "just going fast does not affect the human body. Astronauts in orbit travel faster than 20,000 MPH. The human body can tolerate 8g of acceleration or more for short periods of time. Top fuel dragsters are capable of about 4g acceleration. Many roller coasters produce 3g of acceleration. Most cars produce almost 1g under maximum braking. If acceleration is limited to 1g, most people will not experience any discomfort. The time to travel estimates assume a maximum of 1g of force, and a top speed of 4,000 MPH."
The concept is not a new one, and indeed early blueprints can be traced back about 100 years to Robert Goddard, inventor of the first liquid fuel rocket. The idea was also used in sci-fi novels Logan's Run and Fahrenheit 451, though this is the first time the idea has been considered physically feasible.
Would you be willing to hurtle down a vacuum tube at 4,000mph? Let us know in the comments below.