French aircraft firm Airbus has had a patent approved that could result in significantly shorter transatlantic flight times.
The patent application details a hypersonic jet capable of speeds of Mach 4.5, which could make the journey between London and New York in just one hour.
The aircraft will be powered by two retractable turbo jets used during takeoff, a rocket engine to achieve an altitude of 100,000 feet and two wing-mounted ramjets that take the plane up to its top speed. The technology behind the high speeds has been in development since the 1950s, but many test flights have struggled to achieve the reliability required for commercial or military aircraft.
The main premise of achieving supersonic speeds centres on making aircraft lighter, while ensuring that they have enough fuel to power their high speed engines. A ramjet takes in and compresses incoming air, before expelling it for propulsion. However, ramjets cannot move an aircraft from standstill, so additional propulsion methods are required to get it off the ground.
When all the various technological challenges are added together, creating a hypersonic jet that passes the required safety tests is no easy task. As a result, some industry analysts like Richard Aboulafia of Teal Group believe that the technology is some way off yet.
"Hypersonic has been likened to lighting a candle in a hurricane. It's that tough. We've been tantalisingly close but still many decades away," he said. "Hypersonic is intriguing but the technological breakthroughs needed are enormous. I don't think you'll see much progress with the Chinese and Russians. If it happens, it will happen in the US."
Airbus is also working with jet manufacturer Aerion to create supersonic aircraft capable of flying at Mach 1.6 by the mid-2020s. A number of other organisations are experimenting with high speed flight, including the US military and British company Reaction Engines.