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Will This Be the New Fastest Plane in the World?

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted December 23, 2022

Take a look at this picture:

plane

It’s a rendering of a new “hypersonic” plane currently called the Skylon spaceplane that’s being touted as the future of air travel.

Engineers at U.K.-based Reaction Engines are working on a propulsion system to enable hypersonic air travel and developing a technology for Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engines (SABREs), which could one day allow aircraft to fly up to five times faster than the speed of sound — that's Mach 5, or 3,836 miles per hour. 

At that speed, hypersonic flights between London and Australia could be over in just four-and-a-half hours.

In February, I’m flying to Thailand with my wife and daughter to attend a friend’s wedding. The flight from Baltimore, Maryland, to Bangkok is expected to take about 20 hours — almost a full day. The Skylon could do it less than three-and-a-half hours. 

This would revolutionize the air industry.

But the technological disruptions don’t stop there. Let me explain…

Back to the Future

If the Skylon looks familiar to you, that’s because it is.

The Skylon’s design is based off the SR-71 Blackbird…

The legendary Air Force spy plane from the Cold War era that flew so high and so fast that no missile could ever catch it, to say nothing of any rival power's puny jet fighters.

plane

While the SR-71 did fly at an incredible speed of just under 2,200 miles per hour, or about three times the speed of sound, and still holds the coast-to-coast flight record at one hour and four minutes, it's nowhere near the fastest winged aircraft to ever take to the sky.

Excluding the space shuttle, which is either a rocket or a glider depending on which stage of flight it's in, the fastest powered airplane ever is North American Aviation's experimental X-15, operated by both the Air Force and NASA.

If you want to see one for yourself, you can. The one at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., still bears the scorch marks of its hypersonic dashes through the sky above the Nevada desert.

plane

The X-15 differs from your traditional airplane in a few ways.

First of all, it didn't take off from a runway. Instead, to minimize the fuel requirements of having to start from zero altitudes and zero speed, the X-15 was dropped from the belly of a B-52 bomber (just like a cruise missile) and immediately ascended into the thin air of the stratosphere to execute its high-speed run.

The differences don't end there.

In place of air-breathing jet engines, the X-15 got its motivation from two liquid-fueled rocket motors, which produced 57,000 pounds of thrust.

Powered flight lasted less than two minutes, during which time the X-15 would add about 4,000 mph to its speed and between 70,000 and 300,000 feet to its altitude, bringing it to the very edge of space.

Finally, when it came time to land, the X-15 glided to the Earth and deployed skis instead of landing gear to coast to a stop on whatever flat patch of desert was available.

It Would Pass Your SR-71 Like You Were Standing Still

All of these idiosyncrasies were there for a reason: to optimize performance.

It first flew in 1959. In 1967, with William J. Knight at the controls, the X-15 hit Mach 6.7, or 4,520 mph, at an altitude of 102,000 feet to take the record for fastest flight in a powered, manned aircraft.

Had the SR-71 been flying alongside the X-15 on that day, it would have been overtaken at a speed differential of more than 2,300 mph.

During high-altitude flights in the early 1960s, the X-15 flew so high that five of the Air Force pilots who participated in testing were awarded astronaut wings.

Much about the machine is unique and amazing but perhaps nothing more so than the fuel that took it to those heights and speeds.

The X-15's principal fuel is a chemical you probably associate more closely with household cleaners: ammonia.

Yet despite its decidedly unglamorous reputation, ammonia is actually an incredibly versatile, potent, and environmentally friendly energy source.

It's highly stable and therefore not explosive under normal conditions; after it's burned, the only byproduct is water vapor.

And it doesn't just work for military planes and rockets. With minor modifications, any of today's mass-produced internal combustion engines can be set up to burn ammonia while retaining all of the same benefits.

And guess what?

The engineers at Reaction Engines want to test ammonia as the fuel for the Skylon hypersonic spaceplane.

You see, modern jet engines use a variety of fuels based on kerosene that have a very high energy density that can propel aircraft well beyond the speed of sound and carry passengers and cargoes across the globe. 

Unfortunately, such fuels are also derived from fossil fuels and produce significant carbon dioxide emissions, which the airline industry and many governments have pledged to reduce radically by 2050.

One way of achieving these cuts is to look at alternatives to conventional jet fuels to power airliners. The problem is that most of these alternatives have much lower energy densities than standard aviation fuels and suffer from other drawbacks.

For example, present-day battery technology would require future aircraft to be very small, short-range, and with little payload capacity. Meanwhile, liquid hydrogen could be a viable alternative, but so much of it would need to be carried that planes would have to be completely redesigned and new infrastructure would have to be built.

The idea of using ammonia as aviation fuel isn't new. Though it only has a third of the energy density of diesel, it's relatively easy to liquefy and store and was already being used by the X-15, propelling it into space on a series of suborbital missions in the 1950s and '60s. In addition, it's carbon-free.

The tricky bit is finding an economically viable way to use it in aviation. To solve this problem, Reaction Engines produced a new propulsion system based on the heat exchanger technology it developed for its SABRE hypersonic engine.

In this new system, the ammonia is stored as a chilled, pressurized liquid in the wings of the airplane just as kerosene-based fuel is today. Heat harvested from the engine by the heat exchanger would warm the ammonia as it is pumped out and fed into a chemical reactor where a catalyst breaks down some of the ammonia into hydrogen. The ammonia/hydrogen mixture is then fed into the jet engine where it burns like conventional fuel, though the emissions consist mainly of nitrogen and water vapor.

So what's the catch? If it's so great, why isn't ammonia our primary fuel for the consumer and commercial markets instead of gasoline?

Ammonia, up until very recently, was a problem to produce en masse. It was an expensive process that left behind toxic remnants and made its production in the volumes necessary to sustain an energy market simply not feasible.

But all of that is about to change.

Meet Gasoline 2.0

There is a new technology on our radar that's about to change the paradigm.

It's an already-patented ammonia production process that's currently undergoing trials in a series of progressively larger production facilities.

The benefits over the current standard are as simple as they are dramatic. Ammonia can now be produced using nothing more than water, air, and electricity, and it can be done at a final cost lower than that of gasoline or diesel.

These two improvements to the production process instantly give ammonia the potential to compete in the $3 trillion-per-year global fossil fuel market.

In five–10 years, your local filling station could be dispensing this stuff right alongside gasoline. In another five–10 years, it could dispense only this stuff, with gas and diesel a distant memory.

Ammonia's potential for transforming the world goes further than just powering our various modes of transportation.

With production now requiring only the most basic raw materials, ammonia can actually be produced by wind and solar farms as a method for storing energy during high-production, low-demand periods.

Right now, when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining but nobody is home running their washing machines, lithium-ion batteries are used to soak up excess kilowatts. In the future, ammonia production facilities could be adapted to produce and store ammonia to either sell or transform back into electricity during peak-demand hours by using that ammonia to run a carbon-free generator.

Trading Electrons for Fuel and Back Again

The potential is so great it's hard to fully explain, but it's safe to say that by the middle of the century, we could easily be running on an ammonia-dependent economy.

The company that holds the patent came into existence in its present form for the sole purpose of bringing this technology to the mass market.

It's so new that it started trading less than two years ago. It’s a baby, trading for just $0.20.

As you read this, companies around the globe are building out infrastructure to handle and support production and shipment of “green” ammonia.

The tiny $0.20 stock I’m recommending currently plans for a large-scale ammonia production operation in Brazil and to use a shipping port in Brazil to transport ammonia all over the globe.  

It’s one of the most fascinating and prospective investment stories I've seen in years, and because the opportunity here is so new and so volatile, I had to rush a research report and presentation through production to get it in front of your eyes before 2023.

Things are heating up in the ammonia-as-fuel space, and 2023 promises to be the breakout year for it.

We just finished putting together an exclusive report for you outlining this specific opportunity, and we consider it to be one of our best investment ideas for next year.

Don’t wait another day. This stock is so small it could easily move up several hundred percentage points next year and still be considered a bargain.

The choice is yours.

To your wealth,

Brian Hicks Signature

Brian Hicks

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Brian is a founding member and President of Angel Publishing. He writes about general investment strategies for Wealth Daily and Energy and Capital. For more on Brian, take a look at his editor’s page.

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