The sun rose on the morning of October 14, 1947 and U.S. Air Force test pilot, Captain Charles ‘Chuck’ Yeager walked toward a hangar at Muroc Army Air Base for a flight briefing. It was the day of Yeager’s ninth powered flight in a Bell X-1 experimental aircraft from the flat, dry lakebed in the southern California high desert where the first generation of American jets underwent years of rigorous testing. As he strode past the X-1, a flight team flocked over the neon orange aircraft. Designed with a nose shaped like a .50 caliber bullet and powered by a four chambered rocket engine, the X-1 was built to withstand 18 times the force of gravity. With Captain Yeager as its test pilot, the aircraft was nick-named, ‘’Glamorous Glennis’, after his wife.
As the X-1 was fueled, Yeager suited up for the flight in the ready room and then boarded a Boeing B-29 Superfortress modified to carry the Bell X-1 to altitude. Before being lifted upwards of 20,000 feet, Yeager entered the bomb bay of the B-29 and lowered himself into the cockpit of the Bell which was docked to the underbelly of the heavy bomber. Once at altitude, the X-1 was released and dropped from the bomb bay, whereupon Yeager rocketed the plane to 40,000 feet. Upon reaching Mach 1 at a speed of over 660 mph, Yeager became the first human to break the sound barrier producing a ‘sonic boom’ as he flew faster than the speed of sound for 18 seconds.
In the aftermath of Yeager’s historic flight, he continued experimental flight testing for many years and by the 1950s new designs of fighter aircraft routinely reached the speed of sound and faster. Between 1976 and 2003, the supersonic transport (SST) Concorde operated by British Airways and Air France, cruised at Mach 2, but its noise led regulators to confine the airliner to overseas travel. Flights inside the Concorde were cramped and expensive and the cost of running and maintaining the aircraft was both economically and environmentally unsustainable. These factors, and a tragic accident where a Concorde on take-off, hit a piece of runway debris left behind by an airliner ahead of it, led to the Concorde’s eventual end.
Despite the Concorde’s untimely ending, visionary innovators have persisted with the promise of a supersonic revival in commercial air travel. Inspired by the Concorde’s technology and the human connection enabled by faster flight, the American startup company Boom Supersonic, founded in 2014 by Blake Scholl, began as a vision to make the world dramatically more accessible, setting out to build a new era of supersonic travel with three core principles: Speed, Safety and Sustainability.
In a recent Q & A with Boom Supersonic’s founder and CEO, Blake Scholl discussed with Metropolitan Airport News Boom’s exciting initiative that will change the way travel will look in the very near future. As a pilot and software engineer, Scholl has always been interested in airplanes, believing that travel is fundamentally a good thing for humanity, for business ties, for cultural understanding and the human connection.
“We named our first aircraft Overture because of what it represents – a beginning. Our first supersonic airliner will be the opening of a new era of sustainable flight, one that is faster, more affordable, safer, and more convenient.”BLAKE SCHOLL, FOUNDER & CEO, BOOM SUPERSONIC
These benefits have inspired him and the Boom team to make supersonic flight mainstream, collaborating with Rolls-Royce in engine-airframe matching and propulsion activities for Boom’s flagship supersonic passenger aircraft, Overture. Both Boom and Rolls Royce recognize that in order for supersonic passenger travel to be sustainable that it must be harmonious with a net-zero carbon future. Noting that Boom is not the first to strive for a better way of travel, Boom Supersonic is incorporating environmental considerations into everything the company does-ensuring the development of airplanes that minimize community noise and contribute to the sustainability of aviation.
In October of 2020, 73 years after Chuck Yeager’s supersonic flight through the sound barrier, Boom Supersonic of Denver, Colorado rolled out the XB-1, a subscale prototype demonstrator aircraft for the company’s forthcoming airliner ‘Overture’
Most new aircraft development programs involve an initial test platform, and the XB-1 is a one-of-a-kind aircraft with a value that goes beyond technology. As explained by Blake Scholl, “An important element of our risk reduction program, XB-1 is helping us build the team, demonstrate design processes and tolls, and test key technologies to ensure they are safe, efficient and sustainable. XB-1 has given Boom experience with a number of technologies that will be key to Overture. For example, we have gained proficiency in carbon-composite materials that maintain the airframe’s strength and rigidity, even under the high temperatures and stresses of supersonic flight. These composite materials represent a vast improvement over the aluminum alloy used on the Concorde. Thousands of trialed iterations using computational fluid dynamics software have been performed, ensuring that Boom has reached the best design possible for XB-1. Using computational techniques instead of relying on wind tunnels saved millions of dollars and many years of development time. The insights gained from XB-1 directly translate into Overture’s future success.”
Upon the completion of Overture, Boom hopes to begin test flights in as soon as 2025. With a passenger capacity of 65-88, this supersonic marvel, 199 feet in length, will carry its passengers at Mach 2.2, cruising at 60,000 feet where its occupants will see the darkness of space above and the curvature of the earth below. From takeoff to landing the Overture will offer its passengers an unparalleled combination of tranquility, comfort, and productivity while arriving in half the time to their destination for reduced jet lag and more time where it matters. A flight from Tokyo to Seattle will take 4:30 hours, rather than 8:30 hours and a flight from Paris to Montreal, 3:45 hours instead of 7:15 hours.
Overture’s primary use will be as a supersonic commercial airliner, but Scholl added that Boom has received interest in other applications including cargo and military transport.
Earlier this year, the United States Air Force awarded Boom a contract to plan how to adapt Overture for U.S. Air Force use.
Specifically, Overture could serve as a supersonic executive transport for the nation’s leaders. By cutting travel time in half, it would make it possible for U.S. diplomats and executive leaders to connect more frequently in person, meeting challenges and defusing potential crises with a personal touch.
As the design of Overture is much different from the aircraft seen at airports around the world today, Overture is designed to be compatible with existing airports and terminals. While the airplane’s shape, optimized for safe, efficient supersonic cruise speeds, is different from today’s airliners, both subsonic and supersonic aircraft will use the same ground infrastructure. In order to be a good neighbor to the communities around major airports, Boom is incorporating the latest noise-reducing technologies into Overture, ensuring it will be no louder than similar subsonic airplanes.
In speaking of changes in the way people will want to travel in the future due to the pandemic and its impact on the need for supersonic travel, Scholl said, “COVID -19 will have long -term effects on how we all live our lives. While technology for remote work has softened some of the pandemic’s economic impact, we’ve also learned that it’s hard to replace in-person connections with virtual ones. Travel for business and pleasure will remain an important driver of economic growth and global understanding. Overture is the first clean-sheet airplane designed with the lessons of COVID-19 in mind, and we’re incorporating new innovations in air circulation and touch-free interfaces into the passenger experienc e.”
As the Boom Supersonic team looks forward to the prospect of the great promise widespread supersonic flight offers to the world in business opportunities, human connection and cultural ties, as an aircraft manufacturer, Boom is committed to ensure that these benefits don’t arrive at an unacceptable cost to society and the planet… and that this new era of travel is safe and sustainably supersonic.