In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Faster than the speed of flight: Is it possible to fly to Australia in just two hours?
Technology enabling hypersonic flight – a holy grail for some rocket scientists – could be closer than we think, reports Mark Piesing.
Last month, more than 70 years since the dream of sustained hypersonic flight was first born out of Nazi designs for a manned bomber with a global reach, the US Air Force’s latest experimental hypersonic aircraft was lost during an attempt to maintain Mach 6 for merely five minutes. Hypersonic (high supersonic) speeds are those greater than Mach 5, or 3,500mph.
During the 1960s, US engineers thought they had the prize in their sights with top-secret programmes such as Project Rheinberry, whose goal was to produce a rocket-powered Mach 17 air-launched reconnaissance aircraft for the CIA. But these projects never moved beyond the experimental stage.
Now, despite the crash of the unmanned X-51A Waverider last month, scientists from across the world, in an echo of the early days of jet flight, are in a series of experimental test flights racing to be the first to develop a propulsion system that will crack the secrets of sustained hypersonic flight.
This is about more than flying from London to Sydney in four hours, as the headline writers would have it. This is about space.
“So hypersonic travel may be the dream, but aircraft-like space access is the prize,” Ben Gallagher says. Gallagher is business development manager for Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines Ltd, whose revolutionary and privately financed Sabre (Synergistic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine) and Skylon spaceplane are Britain’s champions in the hypersonic race. “And we are not talking Concorde frequency and cost, we are talking Ryanair. That’s why it is now attracting more resources,” Gallagher says, despite what he admits are the “massive engineering challenges” of flying at very high speed.
Royal Caribbean launches Barbie-themed cruises
A leading cruise line has announced plans to launch a series of Barbie-themed voyages.
Royal Caribbean, which operates 22 vessels, including the Allure of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship, will offer the “Barbie Premium Experience” to passengers aged 4-11 on selected cruises from next year.
Described by the company as “the ultimate indulgence for Barbie enthusiasts”, the package will involve guests finding their cabins adorned with dolls, costumes, Barbie bedding and toiletries.
Various themed activities will also be on offer during the cruise, include a “Tiaras & Teacups” party, featuring refreshments such as pastries and pink lemonade and lessons on etiquette and table manners.
Guests will also be offered dance and fashion workshops.
The Barbie Premium Experience, which will cost $349 (£220) per person, on top of the standard cost of the cruise, is the latest in a long line of unusually themed sailings offered by cruise lines.
Carnival Cruises recently ran a voyage themed around the SAW horror film, NCL’s Norwegian Epic has offered Star Trek-themed sailings, and Holland America’s Zuiderdam has hosted a vampire-themed cruise.
Echoes of the past on Queen Mary 2
The first time Edward Harris crossed the Atlantic on a liner named “Queen Mary”, he was a young man travelling in the lowest “steerage” class emigrating to America.
Half a century on, Harris – now 77 and recently retired as the owner of a U.S.-based travel business – is on his seventh such voyage, having developed something of a taste for sea crossings between his birthplace in England and adopted home.
More than twice the size of the original “Queen Mary” – launched 1936, retired 1967, now a floating Los Angeles hotel – the modern “Queen Mary 2” has a very different feel from those early trans-Atlantic liners, perhaps closer to the modern cruise ships that ply the Caribbean and elsewhere, stopping at ports along the way.
The wooden deckchairs that line the promenade deck beneath the lifeboats may be the most potent physical reminder of what life was like aboard the QM2’s predecessors. But the sense of separation from the outside world that comes with seven days at sea between Southampton and New York remains largely the same.
“I love it,” Harris told Reuters four days into an August voyage. “You can’t get phone calls, you get into a rhythm. It’s a great feeling, even on a completely different ship.”
After an annual world cruise to Australia between January and March, the Cunard-owned QM2 spends most of the rest of the year on the last scheduled transatlantic passenger schedule as what one crewmember called “the world’s poshest ferry service”.
Certainly, some aboard – including this reporter, paralysed from the shoulders down and headed to the United States for an assignment in Washington with a bulky electric wheelchair and some unpleasant memories from flying – are using her as just that.
But for the majority of the roughly 2600 passengers aboard, many on their second, third or fourth trip, the appeal is the voyage itself.
In their 20th-century heyday, the liners carried all levels of society, from great celebrities to those like Harris who scraped together all they had to share a cabin with bunk beds. Sea crossings gradually gave way to air travel as transatlantic services increased after World War Two.
Gensler architects propose floating London airport
It looks like a futuristic spaceship – but this is one of the plans being considered for London’s new airport.
Designed by Gensler architects, the London Britannia Airport includes four floating runways tethered to the sea bed.
Extra runways could be attached as the airport expanded in future generations. Wind change? No problem – this airport is floating so you can just move the runway and anchor it somewhere else.
Being positioned in the middle of the water in the Thames Estuary would also reduce the amount of noise complaints.
The airport would be connected to London by high-speed rail. Passengers would arrive at the floating airport then be transferred to check in terminals on land.
Gensler unveiled the plans in a bid to become the architects for any future airport project.
Ian Mulcahey, Gensler project director, told the Daily Mail: “Because this airport is floating it could be positioned in an optimal location after you evaluate flight paths, bird migrations and all the rest of the issues in the estuary. There’s a lot of flexibility.”
“It absolutely could be done. It’s all fairly standard technology and marine engineering is what we’re good at in Britain. The idea of floating runways is fairly basic stuff – we’re just proposing it on a scale, perhaps, that has never been done before.