While Virgin's airlines struggle through turbulence of the Covid-19, the company has revealed it still has lofty aspirations
As sister companies Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic are bogged down in terrestrial woes, with the latter filing for bankruptcy protection in the United States, it is Richard Branson's space company Virgin Galactic which continues to set an ambitious trajectory.
The company has announced its intention to build a "supersonic" passenger plane.
On Monday, the company released designs for a jet that would be a successor to Concorde.
The project, which is a collaboration between Rolls Royce and Branson's company developing consumer space flight, looks sleek and futuristic. The design appears to come from a time beyond the current pandemic. However, these designs from the conceptual phase are hard to guarantee as Virgin's The Space Company (TSC) prepares for the real work and practical implications of these lofty drawings.
Monday's release says there would be space onboard for up to 19 passengers and their luxurious first-class seating arrangements.
Claiming a top speed of 3700km/hour, the craft would be able to clock a direct trip between London and Auckland in under 5 hours.
This would in theory be achieved by cruising at an altitude of 18km. Here on the edge of the Stratosphere, at an altitude which water begins to spontaneously evaporate, this plane would be almost twice as fast as Concorde.
"We are pleased to collaborate with the innovative team at Rolls-Royce as we strive to develop sustainable, cutting-edge propulsion systems for the aircraft, and we are pleased to be working with the FAA to ensure our designs can make a practical impact from the start," said George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic's chief space officer.
"We have made great progress so far, and we look forward to opening up a new frontier in high-speed travel."
It's no secret that Richard Branson tried to buy the Concorde fleet from British Airways in 2003, when the airline was forced to close its supersonic operation.
At the time BA dismissed the offer as a publicity stunt from Virgin, saying: "maintenance would be too expensive and it is just not viable."
This new design might be a sign that Branson was serious about his ambitions for high-speed flight. Or, given the timing of the release, it might still be a "supersonic smokescreen" for less welcome news from the Virgin empire.
Today, just two days on, Virgin Australia announced it would be laying off 3000 workers. On the other side of the world Branson has asked for a $2.37 billion airline rescue package for Virgin Atlantic.
Even flying at Mach 3, these will be difficult problems to outpace.
While the company's Mission Concept Review has been approved by the FAA there is little science-fact behind these science-fiction designs. At this stage, plans for the "offspring of Concord" are little more than "pie in the sky".