What’s the number of supersonic planes made today? Tens of thousands, but that doesn’t mean you should pack your bags just yet. They are mainly military aircraft, sometimes called fast jets. Supersonic aircraft can fly faster than the speed of sound (Mach 1.)
There are currently no supersonic transport planes in use commercially. But quite a few companies are competing for the future supersonic business traveler and tourist traveler dollars. For business executives, the possibility of a supersonic flight offers time savings. And that equates to more productivity with the potential for a better quality of life.
Can you imagine flying to Paris for an art gallery opening? What about flying to Delhi for dinner and returning to work the next day? Commercial supersonic passenger planes are trying to make a comeback. And Boom Supersonic is at the front of the pack with its elegantly sleek Overture.
Supersonic Planes Made Today: Military Use
The Bell X-1 was the first documented aircraft to fly at supersonic speeds in 1947. Liquid oxygen and ethyl alcohol powered its 6,000-pound thrust rocket engine. Military and experimental aircraft comprise the majority of supersonic planes made today.
Transport Planes and Fighter Jets
Boom Supersonic and Northrup Grumman not only hope to build commercial supersonic planes, but they also plan to develop U.S. supersonic military aircraft. The Overture variant is a military transport plane that can carry 80 passengers at double the speed of regular planes.
Boom is developing the transport plane based on Overture, while Northrup will integrate airborne defense systems.
Many of today’s 5th-generation fighter jets are supersonic speed-ready. Two of history’s most famous fast jets are:
- MiG-25 Foxbat — A Soviet reconnaissance plane and high-speed interceptor, the Foxbat has a top speed of Mach 2.83 and can carry four air-to-air missiles.
- Lockheed SR-71A — The Blackbird is a long-range reconnaissance aircraft that took its first flight in 1964. It entered the U.S. Airforce service in 1966 and served 24 years before the Blackbird fleet retired in 1990.
- High operation costs and decreased defense budgets meant the end of the SR-71A service.
- The Blackbird was the world’s highest-flying and fastest operational aircraft during service. In 1976 it set world records for its class for absolute speed and altitude.
Supercruise is a sustained supersonic flight. The Concorde holds the record for supercruise time. It has more than all other aircraft combined due to its intercontinental flights as a commercial airliner.
Many military aircraft have the ability to reach Mach 1 speeds but can only do so in short-flight bursts using afterburners. The SR-71 Blackbird is designed for supercruise with its afterburners enabled.
5 Supersonic Planes Made Today: Commercial Passenger Use
Today, several companies hope to bring supersonic commercial passenger flights back to business and tourism travelers. And they hope to make it more affordable and environmentally sustainable this time. When supersonic transports (SSTs) come online, there will be a different playing field than during Concorde’s era.
History of Passenger Flights
The 1950s heralded in the Jet Set. This group of wealthy and fashionable people frequently traveled just for fun. They were part of an enviable lifestyle that most people only dreamed about.
During the 1970s, flying to tourist destinations became more affordable and accessible to ordinary people. So, the term and lifestyle of “jet setting” went out of favor. However, the Concorde brought back that sense of elegance and privilege to flight.
Executive business people and wealthy socialites were the prominent supporters of the expensive supersonic plane Concorde. But even the ticket payments of about $10,000 each couldn’t keep the troubled airline afloat.
$10K is a lot of money now, but twenty years ago, the average new car cost about $25,000. So, forking out almost half of that for one roundtrip flight was not something the average Joe could afford.
Supersonic Planes Made Today: Contenders
Here are some of the companies currently developing supersonic transports. Of course, they all hope to do what the Concorde couldn’t, making supersonic flight accessible enough to attract passengers. And, ultimately, supersonic planes made today must be a viable option for airlines to operate, i.e., become profitable.
Boom Supersonic Overture
Boom Supersonic’s Overture has an excellent shot at being the next supersonic commercial transport, reaching speeds of Mach 1.7. Of the number of supersonic planes made today, Boom is the front-runner for making it to market.
Airline companies like Japan (JAL), American, and United were the first to invest in Overture’s future. Each has invested funds and committed to future plane purchases, pending safety, environmental, and economic guideline goals.
Boom’s collaborations with aeronautic specialists help the company achieve supersonic plane milestones and work towards ecological sustainability. Its Symphony engine and wing designs aim to help Overture achieve supercruise comfortably and safely for those on board, as well as the people on its flight path on the ground.
Boom’s demonstrator aircraft, XB-1, rolled out in 2020. Its flight tests begin this year. In addition, Boom broke ground on its Overture Superfactory in Greensboro, North Carolina, in January.
In alignment with the company’s commitment to environmental sustainability, it intends for the super factory to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification standards. Overture production starts in 2024.
|Additional Boom Collaborators||Symphony Engine Design||Environmental Sustainability|
|Northrup Grumman||35,000-Pound thrust, Medium-bypass turbo-fan engine||Clean sheet aircraft design|
|U.S. Air Force||10% Average operating cost improvement over derivative engine approaches||End-of-life recycling plans built into the design|
|FTT Kratos||Single-stage fan minimizes noise.||Net zero-carbon operation plans|
|GE Additive||25% More time on wing than derivative engine approaches||Additive manufacturing in LEED-certified factory|
|Air Company (AIRMADE™ SAF)||Passively-cooled turbine||100% SAF Compatible|
NASA and Lockheed Martin Supersonic Plane X-59 Quesst
The joint NASA and Lockheed Martin mission for the X-59 Quesst aims to design and build the aircraft with noise reduction technology, lessening the sonic boom heard by people on the ground.
It will then fly the research aircraft over select U.S. communities to gather human response data to the supersonic flight sound. Finally, Quesst researchers will deliver the supersonic plane data to U.S. and international regulators.
Quesst’s goal is to encourage the writing and adoption of new sound-based rules about overland supersonic flight. These new rules could open the doors to commercial cargo and supersonic passenger flights.
Spike Aerospace S-512
Spike Aerospace is still working on its supersonic plane made today. It is a groundbreaking 12-18 passenger luxury supersonic jet, but it is doing it a little more quietly these days. The jet aims for the ultra-premium corporate aircraft market, hoping to be the fastest civilian aircraft available.
Instead of windows, the S-512 has full-length panoramic high-definition displays. Smartphones and seat touchpads control views, so travelers can watch real-time views outside the jet, or stream a movie. Window elimination creates superior strength in the “Multiplex Digital Cabin” for unprecedented noise reduction.
Spike Aerospace says its 2022 progress is “moving along very nicely.” Their slogan, “It’s Good to be Quiet,” reflects their low-boom supersonic S-512 and their desire to stay out of the public limelight. The company is operating in “semi-stealth” mode, only reporting specifics to shareholders.
Eon Aerospace EON nxt-01
Eon Aerospace is a self-funded startup, formerly L.E.A.P. (Leading Edge Aviation Propulsion), founded by South African billionaire tech entrepreneur Priven Reddy. So far, the nxt-01 is still in the developing stages of research. But it plans to use quiet sonic boom technology to reduce shock waves at various supersonic levels.
The company seeks to create bladeless technology but is still in a conceptual phase with no final development date for its supersonic plane. However, while the company is still developing its designs, it may become an actual future contender.
Exosonic Supersonic Plane
Exosonic’s overall mission is shrinking the world through faster transportation. To achieve that, the company is starting with uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) in partnership with EpiSys Science, Inc. The UAVs support combat aircraft applications for the US Defense Department. And they act as a stepping stone to developing technology for a supersonic airliner.
The U.S. Air Force-contracted company completed its quiet supersonic airliner conceptual review in 2021 with potential certification by 2029.
Supersonic Planes Made Today: Past U.S. Contenders
Supersonic transports have been in the works since the 1947 Bell X-1 broke the speed of sound in flight. While these contenders didn’t see their projects come to fruition, the technology and insights gained are employed in current builds.
High-Speed Civil Transport (HSCT)
NASA High-Speed Research (HSR) Program focused on developing technology for supersonic transports that are environmentally acceptable and economically feasible. The program was phased out in 1999.
SAI Quiet Supersonic Transport (QSST)
This project was announced in 2000 by Supersonic Aerospace International (SAI.) It aimed to create a “boomless” technology for supersonic planes, and Lockheed Martin began development in 2001. The company has no press release after 2014, but NASA and Lockheed are now working together in developing the X-59 Quesst.
Douglas Supersonic Plane 2229
The Douglas Aircraft Company began a private study for supersonic transport in the 1960s. However, they ended the project after mockups of the cockpit area and wind tunnel modeling showed fiscal inefficiency.
Boeing 2707 and Lockheed L-2000
These two models went head-to-head in a 1960s government competition to build a supersonic airliner. Boeing’s model inched ahead for the win. However, neither aircraft saw completion after the FAA director opted to help improve the supersonic plane Concorde rather than compete against it.
The 2707 development continued in Seattle until Boeing finally pulled the plug in 1977 due to rising costs and design issues.
Aerion AS2 SBJ (Small Business Jet)
Aerion Supersonic laid out ambitious plans in 2020 for flying a silent supersonic AS2 jet by 2024, with commercial flights starting in 2026. The jet’s design aimed to fly it at high altitudes where the sonic boom would bounce off the atmosphere instead of the ground.
The company planned to target the private business jet market and partnered with aerospace giants like Boeing. It even held a 2021 press conference with Florida governor Ron DeSantis to announce a $375 million manufacturing facility at the Orlando Melbourne International Airport.
However, in May of the same year, Aeorion Supersonic abruptly shut down. The company cited “the current financial environment” as creating challenges in obtaining new capital.