Faster than sound

Tomorrow never dies

Breakfast in London, dinner in Sydney

ON OCTOBER 24TH 2003 Concorde made its last commercial flight. It carried a full load of passengers, 100 of them, from New York to London. And it did so in three and a half hours. It was able to make the journey so rapidly because its top speed was Mach 2.04—just over twice the velocity of sound.

In its day, Concorde was a superb piece of engineering. But it was also a vanity project, cooked up in the early 1960s by the British and French governments. Issues like profit were ignored. However superb the engineering, with the technology then available the profitable operation of such a plane was impossible.

Technology moves on, though, and several truly commercial undertakings think the time is now ripe for something similar. Most of the running is being made by three American firms,…