Watch: Why Does It Still Take 5 Hours To Fly Cross-Country?

New America / Simone A. McPhail

In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy pledged that Americans would go to the moon and develop a supersonic commercial airliner. By the end of that decade, the country witnessed in awe Neil Armstrong’s “small step for man...” It was the idea of supersonic intercity travel that proved the unattainable “moonshot.” A half-century after Kennedy’s promise, with the European Concorde in retirement and no American supersonic plane ever cleared for takeoff, airliners still travel at the same speed as did President Kennedy’s 707 Air Force One.

We like to talk about the dizzying rate of technological change these days, but when it comes to intercity travel, we’re stuck back in 1959, when the 707 made its inaugural trans-continental flight. Why is that? And are we now on the eve of startling innovations in flying, or will it still take five hours to fly across the country in 2059? Join Future Tense for lunch in Washington, DC on Wednesday, May 11 to discuss these questions, and the future of aviation. 

Join the conversation online using #FTaviation and by following @FutureTenseNow


12:00 pm: Living Large and Flying High in the Jet Age, Circa 1959 

Andrés Martinez 
Editorial Director, Future Tense 

12:10 pm: What a Drag that Supersonic Boom: The Impediments to Supersonic Flight for the Rest of Us 

Dr. Dava Newman  
Deputy Administrator, NASA 

Dr. Greg Zacharias 
Chief Scientist of the US Air Force 

12:40 pm: I’ll Sell You a Futuristic Plane, If You’re Willing to Pay for It 


Richard Aboulafia 
Vice President, Analysis, Teal Group Corporation 


David Lackner 
Vice President, Head of Research and Technology for North America, Airbus Group Innovations 

Dr. Leik Myrabo 
Founder, Lightcraft Technologies, Inc. 

Blake Scholl 
Founder and CEO, Boom Technology, Inc.

1:40 pm: Cleared for Takeoff? Our Strained Aviation System’s Capacity and Design 

Dr. Diana Pfeil
CTO, Resilient Ops, Inc. 

Justin Powell
Associate Principal, Arup Group 

Michelle Schwartz 
Chief of Staff, Federal Aviation Administration 

2:30 pm: Parting Thoughts: Air Travel, Circa 2059 

James Fallows


James Fallows
National correspondent, The Atlantic
Author, China Airborne 
Author, Free Flight: From Airline Hell to a New Age of Travel