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Boom Supersonic

Supersonic is back with a boom

Supersonic flight has existed for over 50 years. Yet the Concorde of the 70s and 80s seems a distant memory, and everyone returned to jumbos and dreamliners. Until now. A breakthrough aerodynamic design, state-of-the-art engine technology, and advanced composite materials enable an ultra-fast airliner as efficient and affordable as business class in today's subsonic wide-body airliners.

London to New York in under 3 hours at business-class prices. I remember doing that, even managing the brand, back in the late eighties when I started out in the airline industry.

Concorde was magical, the thrill of boarding, straight up into the stratosphere, thrown back in your seat as the engine boosters kick in, and then sitting back to champagne and caviar. Manhattan is soon in view, and you dive down into JFK at the last moment, arriving 2 hours  before you set off (because of the time changes). But then a french crash, unsustainable costs and old technology spelt the end of the 20th century dream, and Concorde was gone.

But now, supersonic travel is back. Though the plane won’t likely debut until the early 2020s, Boom unveiled a scale model in 2016. It has signed on with the Virgin Group as its likely initial customer; Richard Branson’s company has options on the first ten planes.

CEO Blake Scholl has assembled a staff of 25 with deep experience across the aviation industry, and on the strength of that expertise, it has already booked $5 billion worth of business—though it has yet to get its hands on that money. Boom cites a market study that suggests there is potential global carrier demand for around 1,300 of its planes. What makes Boom’s supersonic plane economically feasible is that it has just 45 seats, all of which will be business class.

Extract from article in Fast Company, November 2016:

If you thought supersonic passenger travel died with the retirement of the Concorde fleet in 2003, get ready for what one company—and Richard Branson—thinks could be the launch of a new age in which people fly from New York to London in three and a quarter hours for business class prices.

Today, Boom Supersonic, a Denver-based startup and Y Combinator alumni, unveiled the design of the XB1, a one-third-size version of the 45-seat plane it expects to put in the skies by the early 2020s. The so-called “Baby Boom” is built using most of the same principles and systems as Boom’s planned 165-foot production plane, and is expected to make its first flight by the end of next year.

While it would be tempting to dismiss any outfit’s attempt to restart the supersonic aviation industry, Boom CEO Blake Scholl is holding a hand with several aces. First, the Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing arm, has an option on the first ten planes off Boom’s lines. That pact will also give Boom access to the Spaceship Company’s engineering, design, manufacturing, and flight test support services.

“Richard [Branson] has long expressed interest in developing high-speed flight and building high-speed flight R&D through Virgin Galactic and our manufacturing organization, the Spaceship Company,” the Virgin Group said when the contract was signed. “It is still early days and just the start of what you’ll hear about our shared ambitions and efforts.

In a release, Branson said a bit more about why he wanted to get the first shot at Boom’s initial planes.

“I have long been passionate about aerospace innovation and the development of high-speed commercial flights,” Branson said. “As an innovator in the space, Virgin Galactic’s decision to work with Boom was an easy one.”

At the same time, Boom is touting the results of an evaluation of its business prospects by aviation analysts at Boyd Group International (BGI)that suggests if the production plane can deliver on its expected price and ticket costs, there’s likely to be worldwide demand for at least 1,300 of the $200 million planes. There were never more than 14 Concordes in operation.

“In key business class markets–such as trans-Atlantic–it is projected that the new airliner will have enormous airline demand,” BGI wrote in its report. “It is not a further evolution of existing aircraft. Instead, it offers [an] entirely new set of air travel metrics, and a new product offering for major international airlines.”

Finally, Scholl asserts he’s confident that the people he’s assembled from some of the world’s most accomplished aviation stalwarts have the expertise to pull off what’s never been done before—make supersonic travel affordable, and profitable, at a global scale.

Update, 23 March 2017: 

There was once a day when supersonic travel was one of the most romantic notions in aviation. The iconic Concorde was beautiful and entirely distinctive (and tickets were insanely expensive). Then, it was no more, and the concept vanished in thin air. But if you always wanted to fly faster than the speed of sound,  Boom Supersonic, with 45-seat planes that can make the run from New York to London in three and a quarter hours (rather than today’s seven) for business class prices.

Today, Boom said it has raised $33 million in VC funding, bringing its total to $41 million, and that Y Combinator president Sam Altman has joined its board. It will use the money to finish building XB-1, a one-third-size demonstrator of its full-scale plane. Boom has already signed up Virgin Atlantic as a probable launch customer, as well as the blessing of a leading aviation industry analyst who suggests that if Boom’s cutting-edge technology can deliver on its expected price and ticket costs, airlines are likely to want at least 1,300 of the $200 million planes. Boom is hoping to start test-flying the XB-1 by year’s end and flying passengers aboard the full-scale plane in the early 2020s.

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