Supersonic ‘Son of Concorde’ to take flight this year after $100m investment

With a prototype set to take flight this year, is the future of air travel higher, faster and gentler?

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 09 January 2019 13:08 GMT
Boom Supersonic workshop houses prototype aircraft planned to fly more than twice the speed of sound

An aircraft worthy of the title “Son of Concorde” has moved one stage closer.

Boom Supersonic has obtained funding of $100m (£79m) for the next stage of its project to create a commercial aircraft, known as Overture, planned to fly at more than twice the speed of sound, with a range of 5,180 miles.

A half-size prototype, known as XB-1, is set to fly later in 2019. The firm claims it is “history’s first independently developed supersonic jet and the fastest civil aircraft ever built”.

Once the Boom Overture is in commercial service, routes such as London to Mumbai, Manchester to Dallas-Fort Worth and Edinburgh to Vancouver will take around four hours – better than half the time of conventional jets.

Virgin Atlantic has options for 10 of the aircraft. Sir Richard Branson's airline unsuccessfully fought for the right to keep Concorde flying.

The British Airways Concorde was restricted largely to supersonic journeys from London to New York, Washington and Barbados, with the last of those requiring a fuel stop in Ireland.

The project to build a viable supersonic transport (SST) is aiming for a cabin barely half the size of Concorde: just 55 seats, compared with 100 on the Anglo-French jet.

But the three-engine Boom aircraft will fly further, more economically and less noisily, with a sonic boom “at least 30 times quieter” than Concorde.

At landing and takeoff, the company says: “Overture will be as quiet as the subsonic aircraft flying similar routes today.”

But in July 2018, the International Council on Clean Transportation warned: “Emerging SSTs are likely to fail current and perhaps historical landing and take-off noise standards.”

The organisation also predicts supersonic aircraft will consume between five and seven times as much fuel per passenger relative to comparable subsonic aircraft.

Concorde used about as much fuel to fly 100 passengers as an Airbus A380 does on the same distance with five times as many people onboard.

The supersonic jet flew for Air France and British Airways, but was permanently grounded in October 2003 as high fuel costs rendered the economics hopeless.

Since then all commercial air travel has been subsonic.

Boom says: “From 1903 to 1976, the speed of passenger aviation increased relentlessly from 7mph to Mach 2. Then something broke.

“Over the last 40 years, not only have we failed to generate further speed increases, we’ve lost supersonic capability.”

“Supersonic flight removes a critical barrier to new business relationships, new cultural experiences, and more time with loved ones.”

The company is even claiming health benefits, saying: “Sitting in one place for too long causes blood circulation to slow, which can cause serious problems such as deep vein thrombosis.

“Because supersonic flights are shorter than subsonic ones, passengers spend less time sitting still.”

Investors in the Colorado-based company include the Emerson Collective, founded and headed by Laurene Powell Jobs – widow of Apple’s former chief executive, Steve Jobs.

“This new funding allows us to advance work on Overture, the world’s first economically viable supersonic airliner,” said Blake Scholl, founder of Boom Supersonic.

Prices are planned to be “similar to today’s business class”.

One immediate problem: supersonic flight is currently banned over the United States.

Boom will focus on routes that are primarily overwater. The company cites routes such as San Francisco to Tokyo – though at 5,155 miles the journey will require a refuelling stop, probably in Anchorage Alaska.

“You can leave San Francisco a whole day later and still make a morning meeting in Tokyo,” the firm claims. “You can even return before jet lag sets in.”

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Japan Airlines is one of the launch customers.

The onboard experience will be “comparable to short-haul first class”, with the airliner designed so that airlines can make a profit “while charging the same fares as today’s business class.

“Our ultimate vision is to reduce operating costs to make supersonic flight even more affordable and accessible,” said Mr Scholl.

Boom is in competition with Aerion Supersonic and Spike Aerospace to revive high-speed air travel.

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