Some specialized aircraft can travel at Mach 1, or more colloquially known as supersonic speed, but engineers have been trying to achieve stable Mach 5 or faster flight for quite some time – otherwise known as hypersonic speed.
Humankind has achieved hypersonic flight before, but doing so through the Earth’s dense atmosphere almost always tends to damage the aircraft catastrophically. Upon testing flights at these incredible speeds, engineers witnessed charred fuselages and wings – the paint was literally being seared from the aircraft’s body.
This problem doesn’t impact sub-Mach 1 aircraft, but upon breaking the sound barrier, a shockwave is created, and this compresses the air molecules around the spacecraft, generating excess heat. As you can probably imagine, moving at Mach 5 only intensifies this effect, and engineers are looking into different aircraft materials to combat this problem.
Another concern of moving at Mach-5 and above speeds encompasses the safety of any living passengers. While a constant speed and direction would be considered ‘safe’ for passengers, any sudden shifts in speed or direction would impose incredibly dangerous (and potentially lethal) forces on any passengers onboard.
While these issues might seem daunting at first, it’s probably possible to conquer these barriers. Given the apparent benefits of hypersonic travel and its plausible uses in the real world, there’s no shortage of engineers looking for solutions to help humanity make the next major leap in air travel. Who knows, maybe you’ll get to ride in a hypersonic aircraft in your lifetime.