NASA has called for aeroplane makers to let their imagination take flight. Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin have conceived conceptual designs of the airplanes that could criss-cross our skies in 2025.

The concept craft are greener and more efficient than today's jetplanes, producing less noise and cleaner exhaust and achieving lower fuel consumption, which is a good thing, surely.

The planes have to be able to hit speeds up to 85 per cent of the speed of sound. Their range needs to be around 7,000 miles, or about the distance across the Pacific Ocean from Australia to the US. The concepts need to manage all this while carrying between 50,000 and 100,000 pounds of passengers or cargo. Trim and mixture: wash, soak, rinse, spin.

Lockheed Martin's concept, pictured above, appears surely to be a conventional airliner until you look closer. Click through our gallery for artwork of the other designs.

Northrop Grumman has gone for what is surely the most unusual design: a single wing and dual fuselage, with engines in the middle and a small cockpit. The backroom boffins at Boeing have come up with a squat, delta-shaped concept with a choice of engine configurations. One plane has two engines and the other has three; it's an entirely different kind of flying, altogether.

"It's an entirely different kind of flying!"

Futuristic concepts are all very well, but do they go into space? No. Space planes should be with us surely by 2025, as Virgin Galactic's VSS Enterprise nearing its first commercial trip to the stars. Now stop calling us Shirley!

The Boeing concepts.
Northrop Grumman hasn't tried as hard with its fluffy clouds.

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