Long distance air travel could be transformed in the coming years if a concept for an ultra-fast nuclear-powered passenger plane comes to fruition.
US aerospace company Accurate Energies has unveiled an ambitious design for a nuclear aircraft named Pandora that could theoretically fly from New York to London in just 80 minutes. For comparison, today’s commercial airliners take around 7 hours to complete the transatlantic journey.
Powered by a compact molten salt reactor, Pandora aims to fly at extremely high speeds of Mach 3.1, over three times the speed of sound. This would enable the aircraft to cruise at over 2,000 miles per hour or 3,200 km/h. At Mach 3 passengers would be able to traverse the Atlantic Ocean in about an hour and 20 minutes.
The radical design calls for Pandora to carry over 170 passengers in an arrow-shaped fuselage for reduced drag. Developers claim nuclear propulsion will allow the aircraft to operate emission-free while avoiding the need for heavy, low-capacity batteries required in electric planes.
However, daunting obstacles remain when it comes to testing and certifying nuclear aircraft. Safety concerns, regulatory hurdles and public skepticism of nuclear power could delay Pandora’s development. Critics point out Zephyr, a nuclear-powered prototype aircraft built in the 1960s, was cancelled due to cost and weight issues.
Still, with the promise of dramatically faster and more sustainable long-haul air travel, Pandora presents an exciting glimpse into how nuclear technology could reshape commercial aviation. While the 2030s may be an optimistic timeline, companies like Accurate Energies believe a nuclear future for passenger airplanes is technically feasible.