There’s been very little good news to report in the aviation industry over the past few months, with airplanes grounded or pushed into early retirement.
However, Boom Supersonic is going all out to show that there will be light at the end of the tunnel in the future.
More than 50 years after the world’s first supersonic airliner took its maiden flight, the Denver based start-up has made history with the roll out of XB-1, the first independently developed supersonic aircraft.
Dubbed Baby Boom, the 71-foot-long fuselage is a 1:3 scale prototype of Boom’s upcoming supersonic commercial jet Overture, which is to have a maximum speed of Mach 2.2, making it capable of flying London to New York in just three hours and 30 minutes.
“Supersonic [travel] has been promised for so long,” Blake Scholl, founder and CEO of Boom Supersonic tells CNN Travel.
“What’s different is that we now have history’s first independently developed supersonic jet. We have an assembled aircraft with all the technology that we need to do what we’re talking about here.
“And it’s not a piece of paper, it’s not a computer render, it’s an airplane. An airplane designed to be safe enough for humans to fly on. So supersonic is here.”
‘First post pandemic airliner’
XB-1, which has a wingspan of 6.40 meters, is equipped with three J85-15 engines, designed by General Electric, that supply more than 12,000 pounds of thrust, allowing it to fly at breakthrough supersonic speeds.
According to the team at Boom, the aircraft’s carbon-composite airframe will enable it to maintain its strength and rigidity “under the high temperatures and stresses of supersonic flight.”
The eagerly anticipated roll out of XB-1, specifically designed to “discover learnings” for Overture, was broadcast on October 7 in a live virtual presentation.
While the timing might not seem ideal, Scholl remains positive about the future of the industry and is confident that by the time Overture is ready, the supersonic airliner will be primely placed to mark the return of supersonic travel.
“What’s happening right now is we’ve had a lull in travel due to the pandemic,” he says.
“But airlines have really cleared the cobwebs out of their fleets, they’ve retired aircraft much sooner than otherwise would have happened.
“Travel is going to bounce back. It might take a year. It might take a couple of years. But when that happens, airlines are going to be looking for opportunities for growth and for differentiation.”
He also points out that Overture, which hopes to begin passenger flights as early as 2029 if all goes to plan, “gets to be the first post-pandemic airliner.”
The designers have taken all of the recent global developments on board while devising the aircraft and there will be “no middle seats anywhere,” according to Scholl.
“We want it to be an airplane that people will be happy to fly on regardless of what’s happening in the world,” he adds.
“Think a fresh air supply at every seat. Think a touch free experience in the common areas of the cabin.”
Overture will also offer passengers “expansive views” thanks to large, personal windows at every seat and aims to provide “a sense of tranquility,” while making the planet “dramatically more accessible.”
Affordable supersonic travel
Designed to seat between 55 to 75 people, Overture will focus on over 500 primarily transoceanic routes that will benefit from the aircraft’s Mach-2.2 speeds — such as New York to London, a journey that would take just three hours and 15 minutes and Los Angeles to Sydney, which would be cut down to eight and a half hours.
Devised with the latest noise-reducing technologies, it will only fly at supersonic speeds while over oceans, ensuring that populated areas are not impacted by sonic booms.
The demonstrator is to undergo a 100% carbon-neutral flight test program, including an “extensive test process” on the ground, before it takes flight for the first time in Mojave, California next year.
While Boom is one of several companies attempting to bring supersonic flights back, including Aerion Corporation and Virgin Galactic, Scholl stresses that Overture will be more accessible than some of its rivals.
“I think there’s a consensus in the industry that there’s going to be a supersonic renaissance and the time is now. What differentiates Boom is we are looking to make the most mainstream, most affordable supersonic aircraft possible,” he adds, before pointing out that some of the other jets are being devised for “the private jet crowd.”
“That’s fine,” he adds. “But we want to build an aircraft that we can see our friends and our families and our loved ones flying on.
“So we get up every day and we say, ‘how can we make supersonic travel as available to as many people as possible?’
“How do we ultimately make the fastest flight also the cheapest flight? So we want everyone to be able to have this.”
The aircraft, which has a price tag of $200 million, has accumulated at least $6 billion worth of pre-orders for the aircraft, with buyers including Virgin Group and Japan Airlines, which invested $10 million in the company back in 2017.
Supersonic travel has been very much on hold since Concorde was grounded back in 2003, despite numerous technological advances, so why the delay?
Scholl says this has been mainly down to ensuring upcoming supersonic aircraft travel is as safe as it possibly can be.
“It’s complex and it’s safety critical,” he explains. “We are building in Overture one of the most complicated, safety critical machines ever created by humanity and we take that responsibility very, very seriously.
“And while we are moving as quickly as we can, we’re not skipping any steps. So it’s a meticulous process of design and development to make sure every detail of the aircraft is safe and reliable.”
If or when Overture launches withing the next decade, prices are likely to be around 75% cheaper than Concorde, says Scholl, or similar to a current business class ticket.
Boom’s eventual goal is for tickets on board future variations of the aircraft to have the same price tag as a modern day airfare.
“I want a world where our kids don’t just read about Mumbai, Shanghai, Tokyo and Sydney in books or in YouTube videos, but they’ve actually been there,” he says.
“And they’ve met humans from around the planet, so they have a chance to realize our shared humanity where nothing is foreign.
“I think that’s going to be a much, much better and more harmonious world than what we have today.
“And to do that, you have to make it so that every family can afford to fly.
“That’s the thing that drives us, and that’s the thing that really separates Boom from anybody else working on high speed.”