The future of modern supersonic travel may have just arrived.
Boom Supersonic has officially unveiled its XB-1 supersonic demonstrator aircraft, which has also been referred to as the “Baby Boom.”
The company plans to begin flying the jet next year as part of work on a larger, 55-seat supersonic airliner design known as Overture, The War Zone reported.
The Denver, Colorado-headquartered aviation firm rolled out the XB-1, which carries the U.S. civil registration code N990XB, in a virtual event due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The company first said it was developing this demonstrator in November 2016, some eight months after announcing its plans for Overture.
To design and build XB-1, Boom recruited a team of experts from around the industry, forged relationships with key suppliers, and built a strong safety culture, PR Newswire reported.
XB-1 is slated to fly for the first time in 2021 and will undergo a 100% carbon-neutral flight test program.
Boom’s innovations include developing one of the highest-efficiency civil supersonic engine intakes ever tested, demonstrating Boom’s ability to deliver a breakthrough in propulsive efficiency for Overture, the company said.
“Boom continues to make progress towards our founding mission—making the world dramatically more accessible,” said Blake Scholl, Boom founder and CEO.
“XB-1 is an important milestone towards the development of our commercial airliner, Overture, making sustainable supersonic flight mainstream and fostering human connection.”
Boom’s XB-1 virtual rollout highlighted some of XB-1’s notable features:
- Shape: XB-1’s 71-foot-long fuselage has been optimally shaped for high-speed aerodynamic efficiency;
- Materials: The carbon-composite airframe maintains its strength and rigidity, even under the high temperatures and stresses of supersonic flight;
- Wing: The delta wing balances low-speed stability at takeoff and landing with high-speed efficiency;
- Propulsion: Three J85-15 engines, designed by General Electric, provide more than 12,000 pounds of thrust, allowing XB-1 to fly at breakthrough supersonic speeds;
- Cockpit ergonomics: Guidance and feedback from XB-1’s test pilots played a key role in cockpit design, which was the product of hundreds of hours of usability testing;
- Forward vision system: XB-1 leverages a high-resolution video camera and cockpit display to give pilots a virtual window through the nose, providing superior runway visibility for landing.
Boom is the first commercial airplane manufacturer to commit to a carbon-neutral flight test program and to build sustainability into its entire aircraft program.
The company is backed by world-class investors and has 30 aircraft on pre-order. Founded in 2014, Boom has assembled a team of over 140 full-time employees who have made contributions to over 220 air and spacecraft programs.
Overall, the XB-1 has a very long and slender shape to its fuselage, as have most supersonic commercial aircraft designs historically, The War Zone reported.
Its long nose presents a real obstruction to the pilot’s vision, which other designs, such as the Anglo-French Concorde, got around by using a complex forward section that physically “drooped” down during landing.
The Baby Boom will have an advanced X-ray-like remote vision system that will allow the pilot to “see” through the nose, a concept that Lockheed Martin is also employing on its X-59 Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) testbed that it is building for NASA, The War Zone reported.
Boom hopes to make waves in the air travel sector with Overture, which could also have a top speed of Mach 2.2 and a cruising speed of just under Mach 2.
With an expected maximum range of 4,500 nautical miles, the company says it has identified more than 500 viable commercial routes, including runs between New York and London, which the Concorde also famously flew, The War Zone reported.
The noise pollution caused by sonic booms is still an issue, as it was with Concorde, so the company envisions the aircraft traveling at subsonic speeds over populated landmasses.
The trick will be ensuring that Overture is low-cost and reliable enough to make it a practical alternative to existing subsonic airliners, The War Zone reported.
“On an available premium-seat-mile basis, Overture is meaningfully less costly to operate than subsonic widebody aircraft,” Boom’s website says, but does not give a hard cost per flight hour to operate the aircraft.
Boom does state that they are targeting a seat cost to be around that of a business class international ticket on existing airliners, The War Zone reported.
There has already been not insubstantial interest in the Overture, though, with Boom saying it has commitments to buy up to 76 of the jets from five airlines, including Virgin and Japan Airlines (JAL).
Virgin Group has been a major investor in Boom for years now, as well. The Spaceship Company, a Virgin Galactic subsidiary, was previously reported to be preparing to assist in building and testing the airliners.
While the timing might not seem ideal, Scholl remains positive about the future of the industry and is confident that by the time Overture is ready, the supersonic airliner will be primely placed to mark the return of supersonic travel, CNN reported.
“What’s happening right now is we’ve had a lull in travel due to the pandemic,” he says.
“But airlines have really cleared the cobwebs out of their fleets, they’ve retired aircraft much sooner than otherwise would have happened.
“Travel is going to bounce back. It might take a year. It might take a couple of years. But when that happens, airlines are going to be looking for opportunities for growth and for differentiation.”
He also points out that Overture, which hopes to begin passenger flights as early as 2029 if all goes to plan, “gets to be the first post-pandemic airliner.”
— with files from PR Newswire, The War Zone, CNN