Waiting for the Boom (Supersonic Aircraft, That is)
Denver Colorado based Boom Technology is developing the XB-1 supersonic demonstrator to prove the innovations which will be applied to the Overture, a 55-75 seat supersonic passenger aircraft.
Since the Concorde retired in 2003, passengers have lost the opportunity to travel at supersonic speeds. Founded in 2014, Denver Colorado based Boom Technology, Inc. plans on filling the void with a supersonic aircraft that will carry 55-75 passengers at speeds of up to Mach 2.2. The first step is the completion and testing of their XB-1, a third scale demonstrator that will prove the key technologies that will be applied to the full-size passenger aircraft called Overture. Blake Scholl, Boom’s founder and Chief Executive Officer is a lifetime aviation enthusiast and private pilot who has held key leadership roles at Amazon and Groupon. He also co-founded mobile tech startup Kima Labs and is a graduate of Carnegie-Mellon University (B.S. Computer Science).
The monumental task of becoming an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for an all new passenger aircraft isn’t for the faint of heart. Just review the decades-long process that the Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation has gone through in order to deliver their Spacejet regional aircraft. Now, if you are developing an aircraft that pushes the boundaries of technology that lacks many proven “off the shelf” parts, the process is even more daunting. Some of the obvious benchmarks that any OEM must achieve early are funding, identification of customers, and in Boom’s case, regulatory cooperation. You might recall the regulatory pushback that Boeing’s Super Sonic Transport (SST) development program faced in the 1960’s, restricting supersonic flight over land. Although Concorde was ultimately a triumph, these restrictions severely limited its profit potential for British Airways and Air France. That said, Boom seems to have achieved a clear path to making supersonic flight a reality once more.
First, according to a company Fact Sheet, as of January 2019, the company has raised $141M in their Series B funding round. Equally important, Boom has received pre-orders from two serious customers. The Virgin Group pre-ordered 10 aircraft in 2016, and Japan Airlines invested $10M and pre-ordered 20 aircraft in March 2018. With a list price of $200M, these orders are valued at $6B, though airlines often receive substantial discounts. In a joint press release at the time of JAL’s order and investment, JAL President, Yoshiharu Ueki stated,
“We are very proud to be working with Boom on the advancement in the commercial Aviation Industry. Through this partnership, we hope to contribute to the future of supersonic travel with the intent of providing more ‘time’ to our valued passengers while emphasizing flight safety.”
U.S. Congress: Supersonic Snail
Supersonic flight (over Mach 1) has been banned in the U.S. since 1970, but in March 2018, the Senate Commerce Committee agreed to the Lee-Gardner Amendment to the FAA re-authorization bill, which would establish a deadline for rule-making on supersonic flight over land. Obviously, the constituents of Colorado Senators Mike Lee and Cory Gardner have a vested interest in seeing the ban lifted, but this is just a preliminary step in the process, which will hopefully allow supersonic XB-1 testing over land. While the FAA does have some latitude in authorizing test flights, whether the ban will ultimately be lifted remains the 800 lb. gorilla in the room. As far as noise goes, there is little doubt that the technologies included in the Boom Overture will make it eminently quieter than Concorde, but the nearly 50-year-old “sonic boom” debate remains. Not to be overly cynical, but it has been over 40 years since the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, which supposedly eliminated the out sized influence that industry giants like Boeing and Pan-Am had on the former Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). Remember, Pan-Am wanted SST before government funding was withdrawn, but then built their future on B-747 (capacity over speed). In other words, there were very powerful interests in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that had good reason to limit Concorde’s success. Hopefully in the 21st century, we came come to the point that U.S. leadership in commercial aviation trumps special interests.
In the meantime, Boom announced at the June 2019 Paris Air Show that the XB-1 supersonic demonstrator will roll out of the hangar in December and begin flight tests in 2020. They have also hired JPA Design to develop the interior of the Overture, which is expected to take flight in the mid-2020s. We wish Mr. Scholl and his team all success as they overcome the remaining hurdles facing the development and production of the Overture. We hope the U.S. Congress and FAA understand the roles they can play in smoothing the air on this turbulent journey.
Source: Boom Supersonic