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EADS ZEHST concept plane: How does Tokyo to London in just over two hours sound?


June 20, 2011

The ZEHST concept (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag)

The ZEHST concept (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag)

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EADS has used the opening day of the 2011 Paris Airshow to showcase an aircraft of the future concept which contemplates speeds beyond Mach 4, meaning it could make the run from Tokyo to London in under 2.5 hours. The ZEHST (Zero Emission Hypersonic Transport) study incorporates three different propulsion systems and could carry passengers to heights of 100,000 feet (32 km) while still meeting the projected European Commission targets for reduced noise, CO2 and NOX emissions by 2050. Blue sky indeed!

The study by EADS INNOVATION WORKS and ASTRIUM (the space technology arm of EADS) builds upon the Spaceplane project which began in 2006 and was presented in Paris as a full-scale mock-up in 2007. Similar in its vision to Virgin Galactic, the Spaceplane is designed to carry four passengers and a pilot to an altitude of over 100 km for the view of a lifetime. ZEHST in contrast, is designed as a commercial transport system for long haul flights - though "long haul" becomes a little redundant if you can reduce what is now a 10-12 hour flight to around two hours.

The ZEHST project is centered around evaluating the design and technological challenges of achieving these ambitious goals. These include the investigation of smart materials that could deal with the incredibly high temperatures the plane would be subject to (we're talking 1000 degrees Celsius) and examining ways to reduce sonic booms as well as minimizing the impact of emissions on the ozone layer.

The viability of hydrogen as the main fuel is also being evaluated, which brings us to what is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the concept - the three tier propulsion system. Stage one would see turbojet engines running on biofuel used for a conventional runway take-off and climb to 5 km at speeds of Mach 0.8. Hydrogen/liquid oxygen-powered rocket engines would then kick-in for a steep climb to around 23 km and a speed of Mach 2.5. In the final phase two air breathing, hydrogen fueled ramjets would take over to take the aircraft to "an optimum Mach number in terms of fuel consumption beyond Mach 4" and an altitude of around 32 km. On the way down the turbojets would be re-engaged at a height of 10 km to facilitate a conventional landing. Managing the transition between these phases is another of the big challenges faced by the project.

In all of this, EADS says the aim is to give passengers a "normal" flight experience where they would be subject to no more than 1.2g.

So when can we expect to see some of these ideas get off the ground? 2050 is the ballpark time-frame, but a small scale demonstrator could be a reality by 2020.

The ZEHST study has been undertaken in partnership with ONERA and is sponsored by the French Agency Direction Generale de l'Aviation Civile (DGAC).

Source: EADS

About the Author
Noel McKeegan After a misspent youth at law school, Noel began to dabble in tech research, writing and things with wheels that go fast. This bus dropped him at the door of a freshly sprouted Gizmag.com in 2002. He has been Gizmag's Editor-in-Chief since 2007. All articles by Noel McKeegan

I was concerned at first that this would seal the final fate of the planet, but then I saw that it may meet the European targets for reduced CO2 output. Whew.

Major sigh of relief, after just looking out the window and seeing another polar bear at the bus stop. There\'s been a lot of them taking up all the hotel rooms in the area, and this news will probably cheer them up.

I\'ve been having all my enviro friends do their part by holding it in for 8 hours when they need to go to the bathroom, saving at least a flush per day. That water alone might show just one polar bear that we evil, horrible, greedy, capitalist Tea Party human beings are not all out to destroy them by our mere existence.

Todd Dunning

Can a jet engine be designed so that it can burn hydrogen?


Like ICE\'s Jet Engines can be designed to run on anything that burns. Just depends what you want

Felix Bayer

The Bristol Suntan was an Hydrogen engine test bed. It\'s on display at Raf Museum Cosford. They only built two or three and atleast one of them came down.

Adam Slater

Unlike other ideas, this seems to add up and makes a lot of sense. Less friction and once outside the atmosphere, noise will not be a problem, which poor old Concord had all the time.

Gerard Sharry

Like all \"zero pollution\" flights of fancy, all we need to do is find a hydrogen mine.

Captain Obvious

It\'d be great just to re-power standard aircraft to run on hydrogen.

How about just standard cars, for that matter!

I wonder what the projected costs for the whole program would be and what they would hope the ticket costs would be, in current financial measurement.


Griffin - June 21, 2011 @ 10:44 am PDT--- Were are you going to get the hydrogen?


You couldn\'t carry enough hydrogen to fuel the plane for flights longer than 3-4 hours..

Gabriel Jones

Todd Dunning\'s simpering sarcasm comes straight out of the T Party. T stands for Texas Tea, OIL that is, Black Gold..he is probably permanently employed to mock, at every opportunity, anything that might undermine Texas Tea as the primary source of energy for the foreseeable future. If Todd is so sold on fossil fuels, let him start up his gasoline burning car in the garage with the doors closed and see how long he can \"hold it\". I\'m sure he\'ll find that what comes out of the tailpipe is only the sweet smell of money.


Now this is more realistic - though at Mach 4, the exterior skin temperature - with its attendant thermal expansion & contraction - will be significant issues to overcome. The three-stage propulsion system sounds interesting too. A good place to look for a solution to any engine transition problems will be good old co-axial splined shafts and inner, variable cone profiles altering airflow velocities and characteristics by simply sliding to & fro inside a similarly variable-profile outer duct. The convergent/divergent properties of these variables - not to mention the options for simultaneously covering and exposing alternate air entry points - coupled with variable-geometry air intake design should be a realistic goal.

Nick Herbert

Concept model seems to show massive tanks, with no room left for passengers. This lesson was learned on Tu-155 LNG cryoplane 23 years ago, I thought?


Aerospace vaporware.

Joseph Walker

@Nick Herbert Well, obviously.


the problem with burning hydrogen is that it is the least dense element and as such takes up a huge amount of space when stored at atmospheric pressure. You can compress and/or cool it obviously, but then you need very strong (heavy) tanks or complex cryogenics. If you could get a 747 to run on hydrogen it would have a range of less than 500 miles, unless you used the cabin to store more fuel (which would be silly).

if someone can find a better way of storing hydrogen in a carrier compound or molecule, then the energy density would improve. Ammonia is often mentioned, and has been tried before in cars, but is quite poisonous if spilled or handled incorrectly.

PS I don\'t see much space for passengers in that aircraft above


I noticed one OBVIOUS mistake committed by the author: he inverted phases 2 and 3. Of course the liquid oxygen would be used in the THIRD PHASE and not in the second phase, where there is still some oxygen available

Philip Winstanley
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