The big aviation manufacturers have had a bumpy start to the year, with jets on fire in Japan and door plugs coming off over Oregon. But things might be about to take off. Nasa has just unveiled the X-59, a Lockheed-built jet that can breach the sound barrier. According to engineers, it has the potential to propel commercial air travel back to the future. Its makers’ mission is to reduce the boom caused by supersonic flight to the volume of a car door closing. It’s certainly ambitious but Colorado-based start-up Boom Supersonic says that its passenger jets will eventually run on Sustainable Aviation Fuel. It is also poised to start testing its own XB-1 in the Mojave desert, pending approval from the authorities.
Developments in supersonic flight have long been stymied by a US ban on travelling overland at such speeds. Nasa is hoping to challenge these rules with its quieter jet. Concorde, which was retired in 2003, was incredibly loud and an almighty gas-guzzler that pumped out copious emissions. But it cut through our skies like a dart pointed at the future. As the son of a lifelong British Airways staffer, I was fortunate enough to go aboard one in the mid-1990s, making the LHR-JFK route in three and a half hours. I can still recall the screen at the front of the cabin as it counted us up to Mach 2. There was anticipation and a sense of possibility in the air.
Aviation needs something bold and fresh, a grand design to get behind – which is what the old bird represented when it debuted half a century ago. This time last year, I was at Boeing’s factory outside Seattle to watch the last 747 go into service and, on the sidelines, the chair of a major European airline complained about the dearth of innovation in the pipeline of many plane manufacturers. The resurgence of supersonic travel might sound like the revival of a long-since shelved idea but the pressure is on for engineers to build something much cleaner, quieter and faster than ever before.
Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.
Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis has suspended his bid to become the Republican party’s candidate for president on the eve of the New Hampshire primary. The great hope for many Republicans only one year ago, DeSantis proved to be a flop on the campaign trail and no match for the former president and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. This leaves tomorrow’s ballot in New Hampshire as a face-off between Trump and Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador to the United Nations. The well-funded Haley campaign has narrowed the gap in the polls by appealing to independents and centrists who miss the “Grand Old Party” as it was before Trump took over. It remains to be seen whether Haley’s comet will burn bright over New Hampshire, or be set to fizzle out.
Nato will conduct its biggest military exercises since 1988 this week to test its ability to defend its eastern flank, which borders Russia. The Steadfast Defender 2024 drills will see about 90,000 personnel, more than 50 ships, 1,100 combat vehicles, 133 tanks and 533 infantry fighting vehicles deployed to Nato member states including Poland and Germany between now and May.
Troops will come from across the alliance’s 31 member states and Sweden, which is expected to join Nato later this year. The wargames begin as top officials from across Europe sound the alarm about the prospect of conflict between Nato and Russia. The alliance’s defence plans were signed off in 2023 when it met in Vilnius for its annual summit. Steadfast Defender 2024 will demonstrate that Nato has the ability to put those plans into action. The message is clear: Nato is serious.
Today marks the beginning of the spring/summer edition of Paris’s biannual Haute Couture Week. Among those showing their latest wares is Parisian luxury fashion house Schiaparelli, under the creative direction of Daniel Roseberry. The US fashion designer often draws on the label’s association with surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí and Man Ray when designing his eye-catching collections.
Meanwhile, Irish fashion designer Simone Rocha has created a collection for Jean-Paul Gaultier, following guest stints by the likes of Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing and Glenn Martens of Y/Project and Diesel. Other high-fashion houses worth keeping an eye on include French stalwarts Chanel and Christian Dior, Italian houses Valentino and Giorgio Armani Privé, and Lebanese designers Elie Saab and Zuhair Murad. On Thursday, Maison Margiela, under John Galliano, will present the final showcase of the season. Unlike ready-to-wear collections, haute couture gives designers carte blanche to push their ideas to the limits. The results are often spectacular.
What does it take to run a hotel that is beautifully appointed and has that personal touch too? Monocle meets the hospitality enthusiasts who have traded in their day jobs to open guesthouses in city centres, jungles and beachside.
With more than 80 per cent of global GDP generated in cities, urban leaders need to be involved in conversations to ensure a more sustainable, resilient future. Monocle’s Carlota Rebelo reports from this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos to find out why cities are increasingly on the frontline of global challenges.