Diamond jubilee of supersonic flight, but no passenger operations

US Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager was the first to break the sound barrier - 762 miles per hour - on 14 October 1947. But 60 years later, there are no supersonic passenger planes flying.

Supersonic transport has not proved practical for the people. For many years, the Anglo-French Concorde offered trans-Atlantic supersonic passenger service, for a price.

But high operating costs and a ban on supersonic flights over land meant it could never be mass-produced or fly overland routes. Supersonic flight can create sonic booms, window-shattering pressure waves that are intolerable for humans.

But now, four years after the Concorde's final flight, aviation experts are talking about a new generation of supersonic aircraft. Supersonic Aerospace International says its new Quiet Supersonic Transport (QSST) technology could ferry Fortune 500 executives overland, between New York and Los Angeles, in just two hours.

The Aerion Corporation says its 12-seat design would have the same operating cost as a conventional jet. But before any of these new 'supersonic executive jets' can fly popular routes, engineers must silence their sonic booms.

One possible solution is 'Quiet Spike', a joint project between NASA and jet maker Gulfstream. A retractable spike attached to the nose of the plane pierces the pressure wave to the point where people on the ground could not hear the aircraft passing above at 60,000 feet.

If the new supersonic business jets succeed, experts say commercial supersonic flight could be back without the bang around 2030. Analysts believe there is a market for 400 supersonic eight- to 12-seater business jets at a cost of about $80 million (Rs315 crore) each. But that is the cost of a commercial jet that can seat 200 people!