A new boom for supersonic aviation

From bullet trains to HS2, speed has become a key talking point for the travel industry, as companies implement innovative technology and designs to cut down journey time. The aviation industry is now joining the speed race with the self-proclaimed fastest and most sustainable supersonic airliner. Frankie Youd investigates.

Image: copyright

Hopping on a plane to travel to a distant location is something that many of us enjoy and look forward to; however, 13-hour flights can be a trying experience that leaves many passengers falling asleep to pass time or making forced small talk with those around them. 

These lengthy flights may soon be a thing of the past, due to the introduction of a new supersonic airliner currently in development by American aerospace company Boom. 

Founded in 2014, Boom participated in a Y Combinator start-up incubation programme in 2016, which saw the company receiving funding from the Y Combinator, Sam Altman, Seraph Group, and others. 

The following year, several venture funds invested $33m, and the company secured over $40m by April that year. Come December, Japan Airlines invested $10m, raising the company’s capital to $51m – enough to allow them to construct their first demonstrator aircraft. 

The new airliner aims to make the world dramatically more accessible, offering flights that are twice as fast as currently available. 

With flights from Madrid to Boston taking a projected 3.3 hours compared to 7.3, Singapore to Dubai in 4 hours instead of 7, and Los Angeles to Sydney in 8.3 hours instead of 14.4 hours – could this be the future of passenger travel? 

Making overtures for supersonic flight 

The latest passenger airliner in the resurgence of supersonic flight – Overture – is currently being designed with efficient, sustainable technology which, according to the company, will make it the most sustainable supersonic airliner currently in development. 

The aircraft will offer a passenger capacity of 65-88 people, have a cruising altitude of 60,000ft – about twice the cruising altitude of a commercial jet, boast net-zero carbon credentials and record speeds of Mach 1.7 (1,800km/h). The design will also allow passengers to experience the darkness of space and the curvature of the earth below when cruising at high altitude. 

With over 500 viable routes for this aircraft, the company has suggested that there could be a market for the 1,000 supersonic airliners offering business class fares to passengers. Overture has been designed to be powered by three dry 15,000-20,000lbf turbofans and is hoped to be designed and tested by 2026. 

Sustainable supersonic travel unlocks new possibilities for business relationships, prospects for vacation, and opportunities for human connection.

With Overture currently in development the company has been carrying out research surrounding sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) to address the aeroplane’s greenhouse gas emission. 

Although construction of the aircraft is not scheduled to commence for a few more years, Boom has already planned how to design a LEED-certified (leadership in energy and environmental design) production facility, with the manufacturing centre being powered by clean electricity. 

Alongside the clean production of energy and alternative fuel use, Boom has also been thinking ahead of the lifecycle of the aircraft itself. The company is currently investigating how to deconstruct the aircraft once its lifecycle is up, to minimise the amount of waste generated at the end of the aircraft’s life. 

Speaking on the future of supersonic travel in a press release, the founder and CEO of Boom, Blake Scholl, said: “We believe in a world where more people can go to more places more often. Sustainable supersonic travel unlocks new possibilities for business relationships, prospects for vacation, and opportunities for human connection.” 

Boom hopes to flight-test the XB-1 (pictured) this year.

XB-1: Supersonic rollout

On 7 October 2020, Boom displayed its first supersonic aircraft demonstrator, XB-1, which the company hopes to flight-test this year. 

Roughly a third of the size of the Overture, the XB-1 boasts impressive design features created to improve and maximise the pilot’s field of view. With the cockpit built around the location of the pilot’s eyes and the line of vision, the pilot can have full visibility for landing and layout of their surroundings. 

The inclusion of a forward vision system within the aircraft allows the pilot to land without visibility of the runway, due to a centre screen instrument panel displaying real-time footage from the cameras that are attached to the landing gear and the nose of the aircraft. 

Alongside impressive technology, the XB-1’s design also uses unconventional materials when compared to standard aircraft. The build of carbon composites, aluminium, and titanium have been specifically balanced to control strength, stability, and weight. 

The XB-1 is powered by three j85 General Electric engines, which produce a maximum thrust of 12,300lbf. Alongside this, alternative fuel testing carried out by the company confirmed that the XB-1 can operate at full performance when powered by alternative, environmentally friendly fuels.