Monday, Nov. 18, 2002


Inventor: The University of Queensland

Imagine a jet engine that doesn't pollute the atmosphere, flies at seven times the speed of sound and doesn't carry any fuel. Sound like a blue-sky pipe dream? One day last July, 300 km above the South Australian Desert, that dream became a reality in the form of the HyShot scramjet. A scramjet (that's top-gun shorthand for "supersonic ramjet") is a jet engine that is powered by oxygen it scoops out of the air as it flies, so it's not weighed down by a fuel tank (though it needs an initial boost to get going). This summer's launch represents the first time a scramjet has flown outside of a wind tunnel. It will take years of work before scramjets are available for practical uses, but they could eventually revolutionize space launches and commercial flights. At Mach 7, New York City to Tokyo is just a two-hour hop.

Availability: Alas, commercial flights are still many years away
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