In modern aviation lingo SST is an acronym which stands for: Supersonic Transport.
SST is the field of supersonic civilian transportation, and the construction of supersonic passenger aircraft.
Military planes have been flying faster than the speed of sound, since the late 1940's. The rise of supersonic fighter jets had played an important role in the development of the post-war conflict over global supremacy. They did so by merely bridging the Atlantic gap, dramatically reducing the Atlantic-flights' time, and changing the face of dogfighting for ever.
As civilian aviation developed during the 1950's, a similar ground breaking change was considered inevitable. The only question was which Super Power will get there first.
In 1962 France and Britain had joined together to create the most famous, and in retrospect, only successful SST aeroplane, the Concorde. It made its maiden flight on March 1969, and has been in active service for the past four decades.
The Soviet Union conducted SST research, between 1963 and 1968, in the shape of the Tupolev design agency's plane, the Tu-144. With some help from stolen plans of the Anglo-French Concorde, the Tu-144 made its maiden flight on December 1968, and became the first ever operational SST aeroplane to do so. Unfortunately, due to a spectacular and mysterious crash during the 1973 Paris Air Show, the Tu-144 never made a commercial success and was scrapped in 1985.
In the United States, throughout the late 1950's and early 1960's, an extensive SST research was conducted. In 1966 the American government picked Boeing as the contractor for the building of the first American SST aeroplane. Boeing's prototype, designated 2707-300, with a capacity of 234 passengers, was planned to be the Biggest of them all. The prototype was never completed as the US Senate shut down the entire project on March 1971, and stopped the funding. Instead, Boeing's SST research data served as the basis for the creation of the High Speed Civil Transport project. Plans for future American SST aircraft continued to be issued until the mid-1980's, but they were all scrapped for lack of fund or practicability.
Today the only serious SST research and development is being done by the American space agency, NASA, in a program called High-Speed Research (HSR). The HSR program involves several big American corporations, as Boeing and General Electric, in order to share the tremendous financial risks. The program hopes to produce a cost-effective, 300 passenger SST aeroplane by 2015.
Not very reassuring, huh?
You would have expected that by now, more than half a century after the first supersonic flight, a supersonic airliner would rule the sky, but that is hardly the case. The truth is that no worthy SST aeroplane has yet been produced. The only two that ever entered production, the Tupolev Tu-144 and the Concorde, were a financial disaster to their operators. Of the two only the Concorde made regular passenger flights, but with a fleet of only 14 aircraft, and a ticket price of £6000, it was far from being the revolution expected in civilian aviation. Its low capacity of a 100 passengers, and high maintenance costs, prevented it from being profitable, thus discouraging the building of further aeroplanes.
Today's technological progress makes it possible to build a far better SST aeroplane than the Concorde, both in terms of capacity and speed. The problem is not the technology, but the cost. A similar problem exists in the field of space exploration. More than thirty years after the first Moon landing, we have yet to launch a manned mission to Mars. The technology to send a human expedition to Mars had already been available a decade ago, and has advanced rapidly in the past decade. Yet the cost of such a mission is estimated by tens of billions of dollars, while its advantages over the already successful robotic expeditions, whose cost range to hundreds of millions, is not clear. It is simply not Cost-Effective to send a manned mission to Mars.
In SST terms this exhausting metaphor means, that it is possible today to produce a faster and bigger supersonic airliner than ever before, but the research and development costs will be tremendous, leading to high ticket prices. The average passenger is not in such a hurry, that he will pay thrice the price of a normal subsonic flight, just to get to his/her destination in half the subsonic time. It is simply not cost-effective to build an SST aeroplane today. Airlines would much rather prefer that the current technological progress will be utilised to produce bigger subsonic aeroplanes. The perfect example for this is Airbus's future flagship, the A-380, a subsonic aeroplane with a capacity of 600 passengers, which Airbus plans to introduce on 2006.
The future of the SST field is vague, as the conventional jet engine is pushed to its limits. In order to make any ground breaking, and at the same time practical, progress in this field, a far advanced propulsion method would have to be developed. Such a method may already exists in the form of air-breathing propulsion, or Scramjet. NASA is utilising it in her somewhat futuristic vehicle, the X-43, which can reach the incredible speed of Mach 7. The vehicle is merely in an experimental stage, though preliminary test results are promising. The future of the X-43 is fragile, as Mr. Bush continues to cut down NASA's budget, and allocate resources to reagan's devilish whim, the Missile defense program.
- Space Daily - Shrinking The Planet To A Few Hours - http://www.spacedaily.com/news/future-01a2.html
- Boeing: History of Supersonic Transport -
- NASA High-Speed Research Program Homepage - http://hsr.larc.nasa.gov/