Since Concord’s grounding more than 20 years ago, supersonic flight was something we could only watch in science fiction movies. But with technological advancements in aerospace engineering, it’s soon to become a reality one more time. And nowhere is this more apparent than with Boom Supersonic, a Colorado-based startup dedicated to bringing supersonic flying back to the skies.
In 2022, the company revealed a “refined” design finalized after 26 million core hours of software testing and simulation, 51 full design iterations, and five wind tunnel tests. The final result is a supersonic aircraft that will carry 65 to 80 passengers traveling twice the speed of standard passenger jets.
According to Boom, the plane tagged Overture will use 100% sustainable aviation fuel, flying Mach 1.7 (1,800 km/h; 1,000 kn) over water. If all goes according to plan, Overture will change modern aviation dynamics forever, with speed being the primary motivating factor. Boom says commercial supersonic flights will be viable in 2029.
The company has already come up with more than 600 profitable routes. And with a range of 4,250 nm (7,870 km), it’s interesting to see how fast the plane will fly between some of the longest air routes. An example is the 6,828 miles (10,989 km) between Beijing and New York. Typically, it takes 13 hours and 40 minutes with standard commercial jets under average conditions.
About Boom Supersonic
Blake Scholl, Josh Krall, and Joe Wilding founded Boom Supersonic in Denver in 2014. The company was part of the 2016 Y combinator incubation program, where it received funding from several investors, including Seraph Group, Sam Altman, Eight Partners, and others. As of 2023, Boom Supersonic had total funding of $147.5 million from 36 investors.
Boom is partnering with several companies, including airlines, to ensure the plane’s success. In August 2022, American Airlines had an agreement with Boom Supersonic, paying a non-refundable deposit upfront.
This agreement has an option for another 40, but Overture must promise to meet industry standards and safety and performance requirements, as laid in the performance agreement. United Airlines also promised to purchase 15 Overture airliners.
However, this plan will only come into effect once Overture complies with United’s operational, safety, and sustainability requirements. Japan Airlines also pitched in $10 million for developing the airliner and promised to purchase 20.
Besides commercial flight providers, Boom is also exploring partnerships with the U.S. Airforce to provide unique capacity, power, and speed combination, allowing more frequent in-person diplomatic meetings.
Another key partner is Northrop Grumman, a leading military tech provider that seeks to optimize Overture for military missions and government use cases.
Boom Supersonic: Key Projects
Below are some of the key projects currently underway at Boom Supersonic.
Overture is Boom Supersonic’s main project. But to ensure the project was a success, Boom first started with the XB-1, a demonstrator aircraft used to test the design technologies of the supersonic airliner. As a commercial airplane, the XB-1 will undergo the rigorous FAA certification process, similar to what other commercial airplanes undergo today.
Some of these tests include the aircraft going through lightning strikes, extreme temperatures (hot and cold), heavy crosswinds, and other simulated emergencies. That said, the XB-1’s fuselage can withstand temperatures of up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, with external temperatures reaching 260 degrees Fahrenheit.
The United States Airforce Academy approved the aircraft’s engine, terming it safe for flight. That’s after it exceeded the performance predictions set forth. Also, after maximum afterburning tests, the company established that the XB-1 could efficiently operate at full performance using environmentally friendly fuel. The company is looking forward to flight-testing the XB-1 sometime in 2023.
Symphony is Boom’s engine for Overture. This engine is one of the most advanced because it has optimized environmental and economic sustainability features. Compared to derivative engine designs, its 25% improvement in time reduces an airline’s operating cost by 10%.
Moreover, Boom is confident the engine will meet all noise and emission standards set forth by FAA and EASA, including the Chapter 14 noise level requirements. And because Symphony will use 100% sustainable aviation fuel, the operation will be at net zero carbon.
Boom Supersonic’s Overture Speed Explained
Overture is all about speed. Essentially, faster speeds equal faster travel times. Dubbed “son of Concord,” Overture is a Mach 1.7 aircraft flying at 1,800 km/h (1,000 kn). Mach 1.7 basically means 1.7 times the speed of sound. This speed is about twice that of conventional commercial airplanes, which typically have an estimated cruise speed of about 900 km/h.
Let’s put it into perspective. The shortest air distance between New York and Beijing is about 6,828 miles (10,989 km). Given that time equals distance over speed, 10,989/1,800 gives us 6.105 hours. However, it’s important to note the Overture has a range of 7,867 km (4,888 m; 4,250 nm).
It means the plane will have to make a stopover at some point to refuel and further increase its range. Boom hasn’t put out an estimation of how long this will take and whether or not there will be direct flights to Beijing from New York.
Other estimated flight times between common international routes include the following:
- New York to London: 3 hours 30 minutes instead of 6 hours 30 minutes
- San Francisco to Tokyo: 5 hours instead of 10 hours and 15 minutes
- Madrid to Boston: 3 hours 30 minutes instead of 7 hours 30 minutes
- Tokyo to Seattle: 4 hours 30 minutes instead of 8 hours 30 minutes
- Los Angeles to Sydney: 8 hours 30 minutes instead of 15 hours 30 minutes
Features That Make Overture a Supersonic Airliner
One of the main differences between the Overture and a standard jet like a Boeing Dreamliner is the shape. The shape directly affects the plane’s aerodynamics through what engineers call the “wave drag.” During acceleration, pressure waves form in front of the plane and eventually coalesce, creating a strong shock wave.
These shock waves interact with the plane’s surface and generate drag. And it’s the drag that’s usually responsible for sonic booms.
Wave drag increases drag by about 50% to 100%. To counter the impact of supersonic drag, the engine has to produce an equal amount of thrust to ensure the plane keeps flying. The best way to minimize this effect is to design the entire plane to favor aerodynamics.
Here are the features that Boom Supersonic engineers incorporated in the Overture.
1. Swept Wings
The best way to illustrate the principle of swept wings is to compare the wing design of a Boeing 777 and that of an Overture. The first thing you’ll notice is that the wings of an Overture appear to “sweep back” at a higher angle than those of the Boeing 777.
This design aims to increase performance and efficiency by reducing drag and increasing the plane’s stability when cruising at high speeds. Swept wings work by changing the angle at which air flows over the wing.
When the wings angle back, oncoming airflow deflects slightly downwards, creating a lift that angles the plane upwards. The drag force acting on the wings partially balances this lift, resulting in a net forward force that reduces drag and increases the overall speed of the plane.
These wings also increase the stability of the plane at high speeds. When the planes cruise fast, the airflow over the wings becomes turbulent, often leading to instability and loss of control. However, swept-back wings compress the airflow towards the wingtips, which helps maintain a more stable airflow over the wings, even at high speeds.
2. Thinner Wings
Another notable feature of the Overture is that it has thinner wings. These wings have much less surface area, which also means less drag. Moreover, they have a higher lift-to-drag ratio, allowing the aircraft to generate more lift, even with less drag, thereby saving on fuel and improving efficiency.
When the plane travels at supersonic speeds, it usually creates shockwaves. The main impact of shockwaves is increased turbulence.
However, because of the thinner wings, there’s reduced formation of shockwaves, which also lowers the turbulence and drag. The concept of thinner wings is the same as that used in sports cars compared to boxed sedans.
3. Contoured Fuselage
Contoured fuselage designs feature a characteristic “coke bottle” shape, appearing wider at the front and thinner at the back. This design helps reduce aerodynamic drag, thus improving the plane’s performance at higher speeds.
The design works in such a way that the air around the plane smoothly flows around the streamlined body of the plane. Doing so reduces the intensity of shock waves and minimizes sonic booms, which is the sound an aircraft produces once it exceeds the speed of sound.
4. Material Choice
The choice of material impacts the plane’s aerodynamic performance at every single point in the sky. Typically, the material structure defines how the shape of the plane changes at different altitudes and speeds. Boom Supersonic considers how these small changes affect the overall aerodynamic performance.
The company uses aluminum and carbon composites, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Although aluminum is one of the cheapest and most readily available materials, it has several limitations when it comes to supersonic flight.
Aluminum is likely to experience thermal expansion and contraction at high speeds, which can lead to structural deformations when not factored in properly.
Carbon fibers, on the other hand, are lightweight materials that offer impeccable strength and durability. These materials are highly resistant to heat changes and can maintain their shape and form even at high speeds.
Given these differences, Boom Supersonic accounts for the structural advantages and drawbacks of the materials in the design process. Combining both materials, the company uses aluminum in the primary structure of the plane and carbon composites in areas where the plane will experience high temperature and stress, like the nose, wings, cones, and exhaust nozzles.
Expected Onboard Experience of Boom Supersonic’s Overture
Beijing to New York is quite a stretch; even with the six-hour-expected flight time, it can be tiring. To ensure that passengers enjoy the flight, Boom designed the plane with comfort in mind.
Although the aircraft will be fast, it will be much quieter than previous models. That’s thanks to the advanced engine technology and aerodynamics. The cabin is also spacious and comfortable, with a seating arrangement that allows for more legroom and personal space. It has a large screen and ample space for you to do your work.
The Overture will also feature enhanced safety features. These features include a highly redundant flight control system and an advanced weather radar. We also expect to see other premium amenities, like fine dining and personalized services.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©T. Schneider/Shutterstock.com.