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High-Speed Horizons – Counterfactual history of supersonic flight


Created by Tim Clark at the Royal College of Art, Design Interactions, High-Speed Horizons is a design-driven, critical exploration into technology, innovation, big thinking, and our constantly changing attitudes towards the three, told through projected visions of alternative energies and flight.

Developed out of a short project brief on DC/DC alternative power and counterfactual histories led by James Auger and David Benqué, the project is a response to an alternative history scenario and how questions how inventions of the past could have dramatically changed both the national landscape and the domestic – everything from city blocks to everyday products.

Man has always looked to the sky to push the boundaries of possibility through innovation and new technologies. The concept of controlled flight has always been viewed as a test bed for radical new ideas and visions to reshape culture, politics and economics here on Earth and far beyond it. The history of aviation is full of dreams of alternative futures. Some came to fruition, while others did not. And sometimes, we have been teased with a promising vision only to have it end due to political, economic or other pressures. The capital required to research and develop new potentials in this field costs more than almost anything else on Earth. What comes out of this innovation is as equally awe-inspiring as it is destructive. While the funding and intentions for flight are often controversial one thing cannot be argued, the sky will always give us room to dream.


By observing historical developments of aircraft, Tim got interested in the events related to the breaking of the sound barrier in 1947 by the X-1(XS-1) aircraft which ushered in a new era of aviation that was no longer limited to the constraints of subsonic flight. This major breakthrough opened up a new field of supersonic research intended to push the boundaries of what was possible by man and led to experimentation in aerodynamics and new propulsive systems.

Traveling at supersonic speeds had a particularly new side effect not seen before by an aircraft, the sonic boom. This release of pressure energy as the aircraft traveled faster than the speed of sound caused a powerful shock wave to propagate out over the landscape as auditory and vibrational disturbance. Also a reason why supersonic aircraft have not become more commonplace, Tim takes a position of this technology as a powerful energy resource, where an aircraft, could have been designed to create a more more stable energy source free from the influence of global affairs and politics.

In response to the scenario, Tim designed The X-1SB (below), a counter-historical research aircraft created to test the feasibility of sonic boom propulsion. Its cone shape design is the combination of a .50 caliber bullet (an object know to be stable while breaching the sound barrier) just like the design of its predecessor the X-1 aircraft, and the shape of the shock wave created by an object traveling faster than sound.


The front of the aircraft features a housing for an interchangeable triangular spike used to test how different shapes could create potentially optimized shock waves to use for propulsion. The aircraft’s interior space houses a cockpit for one pilot along with a state of the art sonic boom-powered engine.

The project goes much further to explore aircraft delivery system (above), propose “nuclear-powered free enterprise aircraft” (below), and question political infrastructures that would enable and fuel technological innovations that utilise energy sources not clouded by politics or driven by capital.

Project Page | Tim Clark