Flight Plan

Gearing up to fly twice as fast as sound

K Giriprakash | Updated on September 06, 2021

Cruise mode: United Airlines has already booked 15 Overture supersonic airliners   -  IMAGE CREDIT: BOOM SUPERSONIC

The US-based start-up Boom Supersonic is putting together an aircraft that can fly at a maximum speed of Mach 2.2

The last time an aircraft flew at twice the speed of sound — at Mach 2.04 (2,519 km per hour) — was in the early 2000s. The aircraft was retired in 2003, three years after the crash of Air France flight 4590, in which all on board were killed. The 9/11 attacks, and the end of the maintenance support by Airbus, forced the airlines to take them off the runway.

A new start-up is putting together an aircraft that can fly at the same speed or more. According to the promoters of the US-based Boom Supersonic, which began operations in 2014, their aircraft can fly higher than existing airliners, cruising at up to 60,000 feet. “At this altitude, you fly above most of the turbulence, allowing a smoother ride than on subsonic aircraft. Looking out of your window, you will see the darkness of space above you and the curvature of the Earth below,” the company said.

According to Blake Scholl, chief executive and founder of Boom Supersonic, the start-up is trying to do for commercial aeroplanes what SpaceX does for rockets. The first demonstrator aeroplane, the XB-1, the first independently developed supersonic aircraft, was rolled out last year. Dubbed Baby Boom, the 71-foot long fuselage is a 1:3 scale prototype of Boom’s commercial jet, Overture which, according to the start-up, can fly at the maximum speed of Mach 2.2. With this speed, the aircraft with a seating capacity of 65 passengers can go from Tokyo and Seattle in 4.30 hours instead of the 8.30 hours it now takes to fly between the two cities. Each passenger will have a window seat with direct aisle access and a dedicated under-seat storage. The plane will run on 100 per cent sustainable aviation fuel, a clean substitute for fossil jet fuels.

According to reports, the start-up expects to invest between $6 billion and $7 billion before it can get Overture into the market. As of now, Boom is privately held and funded by individual investors, venture capital funds, and future airlines customers. “Boom already has a lot of interest from major global carriers, and we expect that to continue to increase,” the company’s spokesperson, Aubrey Scanlan told BusinessLine.

Travel plans

However, one will get to travel in the Overture only towards the end of the decade. The certification consisting of five flight test aircraft is expected to be rolled out in 2025 and the type certification in 2029. United Airlines has already booked 15 Overture supersonic airliners with secured options on another 35. The sale price of the aircraft is $200 million, plus options and interior. On an available premium-seat-mile basis, Overture, according to the company, is less costly to operate than subsonic wide-body aircraft. Overture will be profitable on more than 500 transoceanic routes.

Though it is early to speculate the ticket fares [the New York-London on the Concorde cost $14,260 (2021 figures)], the company believes that the airlines will be able to offer fares similar to long-haul business-class travel. The company also wants to work on reducing operating costs on its Overture to make the flight more affordable and accessible. Boom, however, did not disclose who its vendors were, but it is yet to engage with the Indian ones. According to Scanlan, Boom currently does not have any vendors from India.

Unlike the A380 where the airports had to make certain changes to their structure, Boom will be designing Overture to be compatible with the existing ground support equipment, gates and runways. “It will be able to operate out of all major international airports without any modifications to the terminal design or runway length,” the company said.

Boom seems to have everything worked out, but it remains to be seen if it will stick to the deadline of rolling out the first supersonic, ready-to-defy sound barrier aircraft by 2029.

Published on September 05, 2021

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu Business Line editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.