On a higher plane

10.06.21: THE CIVIL Aviation Authority today halted the inaugural transatlantic flight of the Zoomerang, a hyperplane designed to become the workhorse of economy air travel.

The CAA demanded further assurances on safety checks before it would license commercial flights.

Richard Branson, the mogul who set up Virgin Atlantic in the 1980s, hoped to inaugurate the Hyper-5 with a Virgin flight carrying 100 international celebrities from London to New York in 50 minutes. The 71-year-old entrepreneur, who now concentrates his energies on Virgin Astral, forecast that by the end of the decade hyperplane travel would be accessible to the mass market. This space-age plane, developed jointly by Nasa and Boeing, is being leased by Virgin Global.

The nose and wings of the plane, which flies at 60,000ft and five times the speed of sound, are protected by heat-resistant titanium. They reach temperatures of more than 1,600oC, which means that the plane cannot have front-facing windows. Instead, the pilot must rely on TV images to navigate.

Co-developers Nasa and Boeing claim that the Hyper-5 will be a realistic travel option for the budget-conscious. With an executive class ticket now costing E$29,000, Branson hopes that mass production will push down Zoomerang fares within five years.

"By the end of the decade I want Zoomerangs to be to the average consumer what Virgin Peps were at the beginning of this century," said Branson. "The time has come for a new breed of air travel."

The Zoomerang follows the launch in 2010 of the Boomerang, which carried 1,000 passengers. RD/SC