Whether we admit it or not, we are obsessed with speed. We want to compute, search, shop, cook and travel faster, saving time so we can get more done. So the only real surprise about the announcement of a new supersonic passenger jet is that it’s taken so long.
Thirteen years after Concorde’s last flight, Boom Technology has unveiled the XB-1 Supersonic Demonstrator, a 1/3-scale prototype of a planned airliner that will be capable of cruising at Mach 2.2 (1,451 mph). That’s 10 percent faster than Concorde (which had a top speed of 1,354 mph) and 2.6 times faster than traditional airliners.
Working with Virgin Galactic
This is no pipe dream either. No far-fetched Hyperloop fancy. Boom is partnering with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, who will provide engineering know-how, manufacturing services and flight test support.
“I have long been passionate about aerospace innovation and the development of high-speed commercial flights,” said Branson, who has an option to buy Boom’s first 10 airframes. “As an innovator in the space, Virgin Galactic’s decision to work with Boom was an easy one.”
So who are Boom Technology? Led by pilot and tech entrepreneur Blake Scholl, the ambitious startup has pulled together engineers from NASA, SpaceX, Pratt & Whitney and Boeing.
“60 years after the dawn of the jet age, we’re still flying at 1960s speeds,” said Scholl. “Concorde’s designers didn’t have the technology for affordable supersonic travel, but now we do.”
That technology includes three turbofan engines for efficient supersonic cruise plus a slim fuselage and refined delta wing built from carbon fibre reinforced plastic.
The fastest civil aircraft ever made
Boom proclaims that the XB-1 is the “fastest civil aircraft ever made” and the 68-foot, delta wing demonstrator will make its first flight in late 2017. If all goes to plan, the $200 million, 170 foot-long Boom Passenger Airliner will follow, capable of transporting 45 passengers (55 at a squeeze) at a cruising altitude of 60,000 feet. That’s over 11 miles up, high enough to see the curvature of the Earth.
Boom’s aircraft isn’t as ambitious as Concorde. The iconic plane could carry up to 100 passengers and still holds the record for the fastest Atlantic crossing by a civil aircraft (two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds). But Concorde was also expensive to run. A combination of rising maintenance costs and falling passenger demand made it an unprofitable venture to continue.
While Boom’s proposed supersonic jet might be smaller, it takes full advantage of core advances in aerodynamics, composite materials and jet engine technology. “While the design is new,” says Boom, “every key technology has already been proven safe and reliable on other commercial aircraft.”
Come the 2020s, we might be able to fly supersonic from London to New York in under 3.5 hours. The ticket price? Boom is aiming for an “affordable” $5,000 return, putting it out of the reach of most of us, but providing a teasing alternative to today’s First and Business Class travel options.