Half a century ago, the Concorde jet was flying at twice the speed of sound. More than double the speed of your average passenger plane today. But despite its wow factor, the plane made for bad business. From its exorbitant costs to disastrous PR. Today, nearly 20 years since the Concorde last took flight, technology has changed the world of aviation. And one intrepid company is hopeful, about bringing back supersonic travel for good.
What we need to do now, is almost go back to the future. We’re at the intersection of what technology is available and what the market is ready for. And that puts us in a place to have a renaissance in speed. At the dawn of the flight age, the idea of air travel was thrilling, glamorous, and vastly inaccessible. But over time, planes became more economical. And the world of flying opened up to the masses. Not much else about flying has changed though. And the jet setting is now less of a luxury than a function of the 21st century. In other words, air travel is well overdue for an upgrade. And new technology has paved the way to make a new kind of flight not just possible, but increasingly inevitable.
New York to London, today, will take about six and a half hours and that’s typically flown as a red-eye flight. But with supersonic, that flight will shrink to three and a half hours. Our goal is to make the planet dramatically more accessible through travel that is significantly faster, ultimately cheaper and less hassle so that we can live on the planet the way today we would live in the city. Boom Supersonic is a startup aviation company based in Denver, Colorado. Few might realize it passing by, but inside this hangar, dozens of designers, engineers, and technicians are working up the future of commercial flight. Starting with this test plane. XB-1 is history’s first independently developed supersonic jet. Previously, supersonic aviation has been confined to governments and militaries. And it’s never been done by an independent private company before.
Traveling at supersonic speeds means barreling through the air faster than the speed of sound. And no passenger plane has broken the sound barrier since Concorde’s early retirement in 2003. Now it’s Concorde’s last flight ending one of the most glittering achievements in aviation history, supersonic passenger travel. At the airports, there were cheers, tears, and of course that familiar deafening roar. We jumped into the high-speed age before we had the technology to do it in a sustainable way. So in the 1960s, aircraft were made out of aluminum, all your aerodynamic development would have to happen in wind tunnels, where every iteration would take months and cost millions of dollars.
We had these super loud, inefficient, afterburning turbojets with like a flame coming out of the back of the engine. And it would guzzle gas and as a result, it was available to a tiny number of people, a ticket on Concorde will set you back $20,000. Well, Concorde was all of those things. But supersonic doesn’t have to be those things. We’ve gone from aluminum to carbon fiber composites, which means you can build a strong lightweight airframe. We’ve gone from using wind tunnels to using computer simulation for aerodynamic development. Instead of waiting months to test an idea, you can wait for hours or even minutes. And then lastly, we’ve gone from those loud, inefficient, afterburning turbojets to something called a turbofan.
So what we’re looking at here is the center engine intake. So air flows in here goes down this whole tube. You can see it, and then the engine’s on the other side. This shape is basically a really fancy supersonic air compressor. And that means we’re now at the tipping point we’re ready for a revolution. XB1 is the first step to getting to Boom’s true vision, Overture. Our little team has put together XB 1, which is a technology demonstrator for our Overture passenger airliner.
So it has all the key technologies for mainstream safe, reliable, efficient, sustainable supersonic flight. This first proof of concept is a major landmark for Boom. Between a public already skeptical of the viability of supersonic commercial flight, and an ongoing pandemic, that has forced air travel to its lowest figures in years, nothing can afford to go amiss. It’s natural for the team to get excited when they discover opportunities to do things faster or better. As a pilot who’s gonna fly the first flight, you kind of have to take on a bit of a skeptical role. That you always want to question and challenge. “Hey, does this really make sense that the thing that we’re doing?” And really understanding the risk that you’re taking.
As you get closer to that first flight, you kind of need to leave that skepticism behind. But you need to have gotten to a place where you really believe that the flight is going to go as you have expected and we’ve rehearsed it to go. With flight tests for XB1 on the horizon, airlines have taken notice. Virgin Atlantic and JapanAirlines are major investors and already have jets pre-ordered.
While the initial price of a ticket won’t come cheap, the cost will be comparable to flying business class. Around $5,000. Boom isn’t the only outfit working on supersonic travel. But to Scholl, the rising competition just means that more people are starting to agree that widespread supersonic flight is not just a possibility, but the undeniable future. And one that will eventually become more affordable and more accessible just as we’ve seen in aviation’s past.