Are We Ready for Supersonic Travel?

Boom Supersonic bets high on high-speed travel with XB-1 and Overture

By Muzaffar Rizvi

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Published: Fri 1 Dec 2023, 4:54 PM

As we enter a new era of aviation, there is growing anticipation and excitement surrounding the future of supersonic aircraft travel. With advancements in technology and a renewed focus on sustainable and efficient modes of transportation, the prospects of supersonic flight are increasingly becoming a reality.

Several companies are actively pursuing the development of supersonic jets for commercial flights, with prototypes currently in various stages of testing and certification. These next-generation aircraft are designed not only to achieve supersonic speeds but also to be more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly.

Boom Supersonic, the company building the world’s fastest airliner — Overture, recently announced that it completed several milestones for its technology demonstrator single-seat aircraft XB-1, which is currently completing flight test preparations.

The company is confident of the first flight of XB-1 this year while commercial flight operations of its supersonic aircraft Overture are expected by the end of the decade.

“XB-1, Boom’s supersonic technology demonstrator aircraft, is currently in Mojave, California and completing flight test preparations. The team is making significant progress toward the first flight, and we expect to fly XB-1 this year,” according to a Boom Supersonic Spokesperson.

XB-1 aircraft

The supersonic demonstrator aircraft XB-1 features a carbon composite and titanium fuselage measuring 62.6 feet in length. Its ogive wing enables safe operation at takeoff and landing as well as supersonic speeds. The three General Electric J85 engines that power XB-1 produce a combined maximum thrust of 12,300 pounds of force.

“The recent progress made towards XB-1’s first flight reflects the team’s collective efforts to build and safely fly the world’s first independently developed supersonic jet,” said Blake Scholl, Boom Supersonic’s Founder and CEO, who founded the company in 2014 with the goal of making high-speed travel mainstream.

In addition to the ongoing testing, XB-1 recently received an experimental airworthiness certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Boom has also secured letters of authorization to allow Chief Test Pilot Bill ‘Doc’ Shoemaker and test Pilot Tristan ‘Gepetto’ Brandenburg to fly XB-1.

“It’s fitting that XB-1 is now progressing towards first flight at the Mojave Air and Space Port, home to more than 50 first flights and other significant aviation events,” said Bill ‘Doc’ Shoemaker.

“I’m looking forward to flying XB-1 here, building on the achievements of other talented engineers and pilots who inspire us every day to make supersonic travel mainstream,” he said.

Testing supersonic technology

The company’s supersonic technology demonstrator is currently progressing towards its first flight later this year, according to the Boom Supersonic Spokesperson.

Blake Scholl, Boom Supersonic’s Founder and CEO, who founded the company in 2014 with the goal of making high-speed travel mainstream.
Blake Scholl, Boom Supersonic’s Founder and CEO, who founded the company in 2014 with the goal of making high-speed travel mainstream.

In 2023, Boom shared several XB-1 progress milestones. Earlier this year, XB-1 was moved from the company’s hangar in Centennial, Colorado, to the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California, to continue preparations for flight. The aircraft has undergone extensive ground testing since arriving, including taxi testing.

“The most recent taxi test reached speeds of 94 knots, as we continue to progress toward higher speeds and first flight. The XB-1 programme has given us real-world data to strengthen our software-based approach to airplane design. XB-1 has also informed how we think about safety and helped us build a strong, rigorous safety culture at Boom,” the spokesperson said.

No commercial, charter flights

In reply to a question, the spokesperson said XB-1 is a single seat demonstrator aircraft and it can only carry the test pilot.

“We will not do any commercial or chartered flights of XB-1. For Overture, which will carry 64-80 passengers,our target timeline includes roll out in 2026, flight testing in 2027, and type certification in 2029.”

After the first flight of XB-1 — the demonstrator aircraft, Boom Supersonic will continue to expand the testing envelope of the aircraft to better understand its handling qualities.

“We expect to conduct multiple additional flight profiles with different testing points including retracting the landing gear in flight, higher altitudes, banking, and longer duration flights,” according to the spokesperson.

“We have also submitted an sustainable aviation fuel (SFA) permit enabling special rights to fly supersonic in the airspace over the Mojave Desert. Once we have safely flown multiple flight profiles, we will test the aircraft at supersonic speeds,” he added.

Order book firm

The spokesperson said booking for supersonic aircraft currently stands at 130 orders and pre-orders from American Airlines, United Airlines and Japan Airlines.

“Boom’s commercial order book including orders and pre-orders for Overture, the commercial supersonic aircraft, currently stands at 130 aircraft. In August 2022, American Airlines placed a deposit on up to 20 aircraft, with an option for 40 more,” he said.

XB-1 is a single seat demonstrator aircraft and it can only carry the test pilot.
XB-1 is a single seat demonstrator aircraft and it can only carry the test pilot.

In June 2021, he said United Airlines ordered 15 Overture aircraft, with an option for 35 more. Japan Airlines made a pre-order for 20 aircraft in 2017, he added.

“While we can’t share specifics here, airlines continue to be very receptive to Overture and the advantages it can bring to their existing fleets and ultimately passengers,” he said.

In reply to a question about an order or interest from major Gulf airlines, the spokesperson said: “As you can appreciate, we are not able to share confidential information, but as mentioned above, airlines have been very receptive to Overture, given the advantage of supersonic flights. Supersonic travel has the power to unlock the Gulf region, making it even more accessible for everyone to explore.”

Popular supersonic travel routes

The Boom Supersonic spokesperson said many of the most painfully long flights globally are transoceanic and Overture will offer significant and profitable speedups on many hundreds of routes around the planet.

Some compelling global routes that are possible through Overture include:

> New York to Rome journey will be possible in under 5 hours instead of 8 hours at present

> Honolulu to Tokyo flight will take approximately 4 hours instead of 8.5 hours today

> San Francisco to Seoul travel will be possible just over 8 hours instead of more than 12 hours

> Lima to Los Angeles service will be possible in under 5 hours instead of more than 8 hours

> Zurich to Philadelphia journey will take less than 5 hours instead of 9 hours at present

> Dubai to Singapore flight will be possible in about 4 hours instead of around 7 hours today

Strong demand

To a question about demand for supersonic travel in the next 10 years, the spokesperson said the majority of passengers will prefer a new mode of travel after its availability in coming years.

“We have done extensive passenger research with business- and first-class travellers, and the desire for supersonic travel is incredibly strong,” he said.

“Based on our research, 97 per cent of passengers are interested in buying a ticket and target passengers will be early adopters with 80 per cent saying they would take a supersonic flight within the first year. In fact, the research indicates that 87 per cent of premium passengers are willing to switch airlines from their preferred airline in order to gain access to supersonic travel,” he said.

“Our ultimate vision for the future is that the fastest flight will also become the most accessible. Overture leverages today’s available technology and is designed for a premium experience for passengers to travel at speeds twice as fast as today’s fastest airplanes.

After the first flight of XB-1 — the demonstrator aircraft, Boom Supersonic will continue to expand the testing envelope of the aircraft to better understand its handling qualities.
After the first flight of XB-1 — the demonstrator aircraft, Boom Supersonic will continue to expand the testing envelope of the aircraft to better understand its handling qualities.

“In 10 years, we see a future that is more connected than ever and where people can go to more places more often. Our mission is all about making the world more accessible for everyone to explore, and it’s exciting to think of the many possibilities that open up when you can cut your travel time in half and spend more time connecting face to face,” the spokesperson said.

About the expected cost of travel on supersonic aircraft on popular routes such as London-New York, Dubai to US and Singapore to US, among others, the spokesperson said it will be up to the airlines to decide the airfare.

“Ultimately, fares are up to our airline partners. We’ve designed Overture to be profitable for airlines at fares similar to first and business class and across hundreds of international routes,” he said.

In reply to a question, the spokesperson said Overture is designed from the ground up and optimised to run on 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

“Boom will power Overture’s development, certification, and production flight tests using SAF. We have secured 10 million gallons of net zero carbon SAF per year from Dimensional Energy and Air Company for the duration of the Overture flight test programme,” the spokesperson concluded.

Key milestoneS for XB-1

> 2020 Roll out of XB-1

> 2021 Systems integration

> 2022 Ground and taxi testing (Centennial, Colorado)

> 2023 Continued taxi testing and flight testing (Mojave, California)

Key Milestones for Supersonic Travel

XB-1 is Booms’ supersonic technology demonstrator aircraft, which has just completed a taxi testing event in Mojave, California.

Overture is the supersonic commercial airliner from Boom optimised for speed, safety, and sustainability.

Carrying 64 to 80 passengers, Overture will fly at twice the speed of today’s airliners and can provide a dramatic and profitable speed up for airlines across more than 600 routes globally.

Across 2023 Boom Supersonic announced several progress milestones, which include:

• January 2023: Boom Supersonic began construction on the Overture Superfactory in Greensboro, North Carolina. Construction is now well underway and anticipated to be complete next year.

• May 2023: Boom signed a sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) offtake agreement with Dimensional Energy. Under the agreement with Dimensional Energy, Boom will purchase up to five million gallons of SAF on an annual basis over the duration of the Overture flight test programme.

• Boom also has an agreement with Air Company to purchase another five million gallons of SAF per year, bringing Boom’s total to 10 million gallons of SAF annually.

• July 2023: Boom continues to bring on top-tier global suppliers to support Overture, including Aernnova for Overture’s wings, Leonardo for the fuselage and wing box, and Aciturri for the empennage.

• Boom disclosed Overture’s full systems configuration, providing system-level design schematics, as the aircraft programme advances toward production.

• Boom shared the engine architecture and additional key specifications for Symphony, Overture’s propulsion system. Boom also announced an expanded partnership with Florida Turbine Technologies to assemble the initial production units of Symphony for ground test, flight test, and certification.

• Boom expanded its partnership with Northrop Grumman which is focused on defence applications of Overture by announcing it will support Northrop Grumman on a NASA contract to deliver solutions for the — High-Speed Endo-atmospheric Commercial Vehicle Conceptual Design Study and Technology Roadmaps Development — programme.

• Throughout 2023: Boom has continued to make progress on The Iron Bird, a facility housing the full-scale test structure for Overture. We expect the facility to be complete next year (2024).

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