Supersonic jet backed by Branson aims to be next Concorde, offering ‘affordable’ flights at Mach 2.2

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 8:53am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 8:34pm

Boom Technology, an aviation startup backed by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, has unveiled today a subscale prototype of a supersonic passenger jet that aims to be the next generation Concorde.

The firm’s US-based founder used the launch to describe how the inconvenience for his children visiting their grandfather in distant Hong Kong helped inspire his company. The XB-1 Supersonic Demonstrator, nicknamed “Baby Boom”, won't take flight until late 2017, but Boom unveiled the prototype to a group of aviation and aerospace executives at Centennial Airport in Denver.

The XB-1 is a one-third scale version of the full production model that Boom hopes to have ready for passengers by 2020. The prototype only has room for the pilot, while the commercial-ready version will eventually hold up to 44 passengers. The startup claims its vehicles will be able to travel from from New York to London — normally a 7-hour flight — in just 3.5 hours, or LA to Sydney — typically a 15-hour trip — in 6 hours and 45 minutes. Tickets will cost the “affordable” price of US$5,000 per seat.

Blake Scholl, chief executive officer and founder of Boom,said he was motivated to build a supersonic jet to make it easier to travel great distances. “I've got little kids, and their grandpa lives in Hong Kong, which is 18 hours away,” he said. “They see him once a year, and they'll never be close. It's because we're basically flying with the same airplanes we were using when my grandparents were little.”

There hasn't been a supersonic commercial jet in operation since the Concorde jet, constructed by French aerospace company Aérospatiale and British Aircraft Corporation, was retired after 27 years of service in 2003.

A number of factors went into Concorde going out of business, including the plane’s only crash in 2000 and Airbus, the successor to Aérospatiale, ultimately deciding to stop maintenance on the aircraft. The Concorde was also a gas-guzzler and a money-loser for Airbus.

Boom claims its aircraft can travel at a speed of Mach 2.2 (2,335km.h), or 10 per cent faster than the Concorde and over twice as fast as the average airliner.

The startup's ace-up-the-sleeve is support from the Virgin Group and its CEO, Branson. Virgin will initially help Boom with research and development, while Branson's spacecraft manufacturing company, The Spaceship Company, will provide a host of other operational services to Boom. In exchange, Virgin will have the option to purchase Boom's first 10 jets.

“I have long been passionate about aerospace innovation and the development of high-speed commercial flights,” Branson said in a statement. “As an innovator in the space, Virgin Galactic's decision to work with Boom was an easy one.”

Next year, Boom says it will start conducting two types of tests with the XB-1 Demonstrator. Subsonic tests, or tests below the speed of sound, will take place at Centennial Airport, while supersonic tests will be conducted at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Boom isn't the only group trying to bring back supersonic travel. A group called Concorde Club says it has enough money to restore a Concorde jet for use in air shows and for private charters, with plans to resume flights sometime in 2019.

Airbus has meanwhile filed a patent for its own supersonic jet that can supposedly go four times the speed of sound. And a Boston-based company Spike Aersospace is looking to build a US$80 million supersonic jet that will be filled with embedded video displays rather than airplane windows.