The aerospace startup Boom Supersonic has recently introduced its first aircraft this week, the XB-1. The event was a great milestone for the company, which aims to bring to market in the next decade a supersonic airliner, capable of traveling at a speed greater than sound, reported Business Insider.
The XB-1 is a single-seat demonstration aircraft, designed to test and demonstrate the effectiveness of the design and technology that Boom will use for its first passenger aircraft, the Overture.
Boom plans to begin test flights with a prototype of the Overture in 2026, with the hope that the aircraft will gain approval by 2029. Japan Airlines, which has invested $10 million in Boom, is expected to become the launch customer, and the U.S. Department of Defense has awarded Boom a contract to develop a version that could serve as the future Air Force One.
Supersonic travel (for non-military purposes) has existed since 1976, when the famous Concorde made its first passenger flight. That plane could fly between New York and London in just three hours, but was plagued by design obstacles, maintenance problems and extremely high operating costs. It was retired in 2003.
Although several major accidents eventually doomed the plane, its real problem was an unworkable economy, says Boom Supersonic founder and CEO Blake Scholl.
“The main limitation of the Concorde was economy. Because of the plane’s fuel inefficiency, the tickets cost about $20,000 each,” Scholl explains. “And you can’t fill 100 seats at $20,000. The plane made some money from here to London, but you can’t build a business around that.
Scholl intends to sell trips at prices comparable to what business class travelers pay today (four to five times what an economy class seat costs). Boom will build on the decades of technological advances that separate the design of the Concorde from that of Overture, which has resulted in tools such as composite materials for the airframe and new, efficient turbofan engines.
In addition, Boom has the advantage of working with modern design tools, such as advanced computer design programs, instead of the “pen and paper” available to Concorde developers, said Greg Krauland, chief engineer of the XB-1 project, at the presentation event.
The startup also hopes to solve some of Concorde’s operational challenges. For example, the Overture will use cameras to allow pilots to see around the unusual, elongated nose of the supersonic aircraft, instead of the tilting nose mechanism that was used on the Concorde.
“The Concorde once had afterburners that were the state-of-the-art technology of the time,” Scholl explains. “But today we have turbofans that will also be able to comply with noise regulations,” avoiding another problem that plagued the Concorde for years.
Like the Concorde, the Overture will not be able to travel above Mach 1 – the speed of sound – without generating an acoustic explosion. Regulations will prevent it from flying at supersonic speeds over many countries, including the United States. So you’ll have to wait to be able to fly from New York to Los Angeles in just 2 hours.
That, however, seems like an insignificant issue: Boom has identified 500 different routes where supersonic flight is viable, according to Scholl, and although today’s business class ticket prices are unaffordable for most people, he says he expects those prices, and the operating cost per seat of supersonic flights, to eventually drop.
“The XB-1 is like our Tesla Roadster, and the Overture is our Model S, for many people but not for everyone at the moment,” Scholl says. “In the next generation, we’ll be a little cheaper.
“We’re in the financial realm of a 30 percent efficiency improvement over the Concorde. We’ll find another 30% improvement [in the next generation] and we’ll be able to settle the score,” he adds.
Simply designing a larger version of the Overture, once the plane is successful, could be enough to reduce the operating cost per seat, Scholl anticipates.
“There are many benefits to be gained just by expanding to a larger aircraft,” he says. “Our vision for Boom is to be the company that builds a supersonic aircraft that everyone can fly in.
By David Slotnick