Supersonic commercial flight could be in the near future, if Boom Supersonic succeeds in developing its planned 55-passenger Overture airliner.
The Denver-based startup is hosting a virtual rollout event for its supersonic demonstrator, the XB-1, on October 7, marking a significant step toward its plans to develop the Mach 2.2 airliner, AINonline reported.
Powered by three GE J85-15 engines, the XB-1 is a one-third-scale demonstrator that will be used to pave the way for the Overture airliner.
XB-1 testing will be used to demonstrate technologies, such as carbon fiber composite construction, computer-optimized high-efficiency aerodynamics and supersonic propulsion systems, AINonline reported.
The announced rollout is the culmination of years of research, including wind tunnel and structural testing, and hundreds of simulations, Boom said. Plans call for ground tests later this year and flight trials beginning in 2021.
Despite the difficulties involved with development in the Covid-19 environment, Boom continues to make progress on the demonstrator as major structures come together, AINonline reported.
These include the recent completion of the vertical stabilizer, assembly of the aft fuselage, and attachment of the XB-1’s ogival delta wing to the forward fuselage.
“Our experiences in the Covid-19 pandemic underscore for all of us the fundamental human need for personal connection,” said Boom founder and CEO Blake Scholl.
“Faster travel enables us to experience the world’s people, cultures, and places, and XB-1 is the first step in bringing supersonic back to the world.”
The results of the XB-1 test program, which claims to be 100% carbon neutral, will allow the company to fine tune the design for supersonic airliner Overture, CNN reported.
“We’re ensuring that the supersonic future is safe and environmentally and economically sustainable,” he added.
“We’ve learned that the demand for supersonic has grown even faster than we anticipated.”
Before the pandemic, Boom had garnered at least US$6 billion worth of pre-orders for the aircraft, which has a price tag of US$200 million, with buyers included Virgin Group and Japan Airlines, which invested US$10 million in the company in 2017, CNN reported.
If all goes to plan, Overture, which is designed to seat between 55 to 75 people, will begin passenger flights in 2030.
It will focus on over 500 primarily transoceanic routes that will benefit from the aircraft’s Mach-2.2 speeds — such as New York to London, a journey that would take just three hours and 15 minutes, CNN reported.
The aircraft has been designed with the latest noise-reducing technologies and will only fly at supersonic speeds while over oceans to ensure that populated areas are not affected by sonic booms.
And although funding and regulatory challenges remain, executives insist that advanced computer design technologies will enable aeronautical start-ups to tackle the critical hurdles that have hamstrung supersonic commercial flight, Flight Global reported.
“The software has integrated everything. It’s not just a tool anymore,” says Vik Kachoria, chief executive of Spike, the Boston-based firm developing the S-512 supersonic business jet. Spike is proposing a US$125 million aircraft that will cruise at Mach 1.6 and carry up to 18 passengers.
“Before, it would take thousands of software engineers, literally, to sit at their desks and calculate,” says Kachoria, noting such software can quickly evaluate thousands of designs. “It enables small companies to do amazing things.”
Today, he says, computer-aided design programmes talk to computational fluid dynamics schemes, while multi-disciplinary optimization “takes all these packages and connects them together.”
Advanced digital tools also form the foundation of Aerion, the Reno, Nevada company developing AS2, a M1.4, 8-10-passenger business jet priced at US$120 million, says chief executive Tom Vice.
“We have designed our entire company from day one to implement an all-digital integrated environment,” says Vice. “Our approach is to become the best designers in the world up front.”
Aerion’s digital backbone lets it make use of technologies like artificial intelligence, digital twins (computer-generated replicas of physical items), digital threads (frameworks for linking data) and other “design optimization tools.”
“We can take that digital twin, while it’s still in design, and run it through high-fidelity simulations for manufacturing, which then allows us to build the airplane simulations hundreds of times – thousands of times – before we actually build a real first article,” he says.