DENVER — Since the retirement of the Concorde thirteen years ago, the world has dreamt of an aircraft that would come along and serve as a replacement — not only offering supersonic travel, but also the unique, futuristic shape that turned heads wherever it appeared.
At Denver’s Centennial Airport on Tuesday night, Boom Aerospace founder Blake Scholl revealed Boom’s XB-1 Technology Demonstrator. Dubbed “Baby Boom,” the XB-1 will prove viability for the production airliner, which will be the world’s first privately-developed supersonic jet, and fastest civil aircraft ever built.
Upon arriving at Boom Technology, it was after dark, and their building was illuminated with blue LED lights around the exterior. Once inside, the entrance featured displays of Boom’s XB-1 test aircraft and their production model.
Video screens showed routes on which Boom would be suitable to serve, such as New York-London, San Francisco-Tokyo, and London-Dubai. The room also featured a scale model of how their engine technology will work.
The hangar space at Boom had been converted into a party room for the event, complete with carpeting on the floor. The room had a very upscale, dimly-lit lounge-like atmosphere, with a bar off to the side, and hosts offering appetizers as guests stood and chatted with each other. The bar even featured a one-off local craft beer called “ExperimentALE” which was served in glassed etched with the Boom logo.
Boom’s development team is a veritable all-star roster of players from the aerospace industry. The team consists of four certified pilots, including Scholl. Other notable contributors include co-founder Joe Wilding, who has worked on the Beech Premier I, Eclipse 500, Icon A5, and the Adam A700 and A500.
Propulsion Engineer Andy Berryann worked for Pratt & Whitney on the engines for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as well as the Geared Turbofan program. Systems Engineer Michael Reid has worked on seven aircraft that each made it into the skies, including the autopilot system for Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and the flight dynamics for Virgin Galactic’s Space Ship Two. Boom’s advisory board also includes a host of resources, including former members at Lockheed’s Skunk Works, and NASA Astronaut Mark Kelly.
At 19:00, Scholl took the stage and welcomed guests. Among the crowd were prospective airline customers, SR-71 and Concorde pilots, and of course Boom employees. “Sixty years after the dawn of the Jet Age, we’re still flying in the Jet Age,” said Scholl. “We’re about to have self-driving cars, but we’re still flying at the same speeds. I think this is crazy, and we’re here to do something about it.”
Scholl went on to discuss how the Jet Age revolutionized the way people travel, and how the Concorde was supposed to to do jets what jets had done to propeller-driven planes. Obviously that never came to fruition, because the Concorde operated so inefficiently, and was unaffordable to most travelers. “We’re taking what Concorde did half a century ago, and applying modern technology.” Scholl called aviation a hostile environment for entrepreneurship, being capital-intensive and so highly regulated. He noted that the last founder of a commercial aviation company retired over sixty years ago.
It became very clear that Boom was using the Concorde as a rough draft for their program. School said, “We have to learn lessons from the Concorde — what worked, what didn’t work, and what we’re going to do differently. The fundamental problem was with the technology they had at the time, you simply couldn’t do fuel-efficient supersonic travel. High fuel costs pushed up ticket prices. High ticket prices made it harder to fill seats. Unfilled seats made the aircraft nonviable on many routes. The cost of maintaining such a small fleet were prohibitive.”
During the celebration at the event, Airways spoke to Mike Boyd, head of the renowned aviation firm Boyd Group International. I asked him about who he thought would make some ideal customers for Boom, and he said, “Go right down the list. American Airlines, IAG, Japan Airlines. If they have any trans-oceanic flying, they’re going to want this airplane. And if the government ever realizes that the “boom” this thing makes is less than a lawnmower, there’ll be a whole lot more sold to domestic airlines.”
Boyd also remarked that the Boom “is not like the Concorde. It will not break the china cabinet when it goes overhead. Our feasibility study done for Boom shows at least 1,300 to 1,500, and that’s really conservative. We think it’s going to be 1,800, or if it can fly over land in certain places, 2,000. What you’re looking at here tonight is a disruptive airplane. It’s gonna change how airlines think.”
When Boyd was asked about his thoughts on the return of supersonic travel to commercial aviation, and he replied, “The technology is entirely different. The Concorde was a World Wonder, done with slide rules. This [Boom’s design] is done with computers. It also has a lot more technology in regard to things like fuel burn, so it’s a whole different world. This is just another step. Where it’ll go from here, who knows? Does that mean China will develop a bigger model, they may. But this is going to start something, and by the time it’s over, Boom will be something that everyone is talking about.”
Once in production, Boom says the plane will hold 45 passengers, and be able to cruise at speeds up to Mach 2.2. — faster than the Concorde’s Mach 2.0. In comparison, Air France’s Concordes held 92 passengers, while British Airways’ Concordes were configured for 100. The listed range for the aircraft is 9,000 nautical miles, but a “brief tech stop” will be required on routes over 4,500 miles. During those stops, passengers will be able to remain seated on the plane.
During Scholl’s opening remarks, I noticed an older gentleman who was engaging Scholl with smiles and nods each time the Concorde was mentioned, so I approached him after the speech. This gentleman ended up being former British Airways Concorde engineer Ricky Bastin, who was gracious to answer a couple of questions.
When Bastin was asked about his thoughts on Boom’s plans and the return of supersonic travel. “I think it’s exciting. I think it’s more than possible. The team they’ve assembled are incredibly talented, and driven, and motivated. Personally, I think she will succeed.” I also asked Bastin if he could foresee it being in service with a lot of airlines, and he replied, “Because it will be so affordable, and the seat mile cost is so low, if airlines want to carry premium traffic, that’s where they make all of the money. You don’t make it from economy. They’re gonna have to buy Boom.” Bastin was with British Airways from 1977 to 2011, and is also a member of U.K. based Save Concorde Group.
Boom says the plane is being developed so that airlines will be able to offer tickets at a profitable margin, at about the same cost of current Business Class tickets. But as always, ticket prices will be set by the airlines. Although supersonic flight has been possible for decades, the availability of carbon composites for fuselage design allows for a lighter, more sturdy aircraft. Scholl said carbon fiber is also must more heat resistant than aluminum, which can heat to 307 degrees Fahrenheit at supersonic speeds.
We also had the opportunity to speak with Boom cofounder and Chief Engineer, Joe Wilding, who has worked on several clean-sheet aircraft designs throughout his career. My first question to him was why Boom selected Denver as their home, when supersonic travel is prohibited over U.S. soil. “Denver is the most awesome place in the world to start a company,” said Wilding. “It’s got everything you look for. This airport (Centennial) is very friendly to a start-up environment. We’ve got a great 10,000-foot runway. To the east of here is all farmland, which is a great place to test a new airplane.”
Wilding also explained to me some of the engine technology that will make Boom a successful plane. He said there’s not a currently existing engine that will work, but “we can convert the same engine that is on the 787 for instance [the GEnx-1B or Rolls-Royce Trent 1000] by taking the fan on the front part of the engine, making a new version that is smaller, and keep the core of the engine exactly the same, and get an engine that perfectly matches the engine we’re trying to build.” Wilding said they are in discussion with each of the big three engine manufacturers. The plane’s unique wing actually tapers all the way up to the nose. This feature is called , and was also used on the SR-71 Blackbird. The XB-1 demonstrator will have three GE J85-21 engines.
The company says engineering development of the XB-1 (“Baby Boom”) is proceeding rapidly, with aerodynamics defined, systems ground tested, and initial structural components in fabrication. Vehicle assembly starts shortly, with first flight planned for late 2017.
Due to the current ban of supersonic flight over the United States — which Boom feels should be repealed — the company says their plane will fly primarily on over-water routes such as New York to London, or San Francisco to Tokyo. London Heathrow to Dubai would also be easily within range. Boom has identified over 500 routes that would benefit from the use of their cutting-edge aircraft.
In its development stage, Boom used simulation software to test over 1,000 designs, without having to put a model in a wind tunnel. This process saves tons of money over traditional development aircraft design testing.
This March, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group announced that it had acquired options to purchase up to the first ten planes. At the time of the announcement, Branson said, “I have long been passionate about aerospace innovation and the development of high-speed commercial flights. As an innovator in the space, Virgin Galactic’s decision to work with Boom was an easy one.” The agreement will give Boom access to the Spaceship Company’s engineering, design, manufacturing, and flight test support services. Boom also says up to fifteen planes have been optioned to an “unnamed European carrier.”
In regard to orders, Joe Wilding told me that Japan Airlines was present at the unveiling event are are working in the direction of getting them signed on an order. He also said that they are in discussions with a dozen or more airlines — some of which are in very advanced stages. He also said “the Middle East airlines are all over this” with excitement about the possibility of ordering Boom. I also noticed the Delta Air Lines livery being used on a virtual reality simulation of the cabin interior.
Boom says their technology would result in a much quieter sonic boom than the Concorde and military aircraft, and dispels the legend that sonic booms can shatter windows and damage the hearing of bystanders. Boom’s engines will not have afterburners, but will instead use a proprietary variable geometry intake and exhaust system to control the plane’s thrust. If all goes as planned, we could see Virgin flying Boom jets as soon as the early 2020s.