Boom Supersonic’s CEO explains how his jet could avoid the pitfalls that doomed the Concorde — and someday bring faster-than-sound flight to the masses

Boom Supersonic aims to have its first passenger jet — the Overture — fully certified by 2029. Boom Supersonic
  • Boom Supersonic unveiled its first aircraft this week, a demonstrator that will test the design for Boom’s first supersonic passenger jet, the Overture.
  • The Overture, which is schedule to begin test flights in 2025, won’t be the first supersonic passenger jet. That accolade belongs to the Concorde, the storied plane that entered service in 1976, but never managed to go mainstream.
  • In an interview with Business Insider, Boom’s founder and CEO explains why now is finally the time to try supersonic travel again – and why the Overture can succeed where the Concorde failed.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Aerospace startup Boom Supersonic unveiled its first plane this week, the XB-1. The reveal marked a major milestone for the company, which aims to have a supersonic passenger jet — a plane capable of travelling faster than the speed of sound — to market in the next decade.

The XB-1 is a single-seat demonstrator jet, meant to test and prove the efficacy of the design and technology Boom will use for its first passenger jet, the Overture.

Boom plans to begin flight testing an Overture prototype in 2025, with the hope of getting the plane certified around 2029. Japan Airlines, which has invested $US10 million in Boom, is expected to be the launch customer, and the US Department of Defence has awarded Boom a contract to develop a version that could serve as Air Force One.

Supersonic travel (ie, for non-military purposes) has been around since 1976, when the famed Concorde made its first passenger flight. That jet could fly between New York and London in as few as three hours, but was plagued by design challenges, maintenance issues, and extremely high operating costs. It was retired in 2003.

Although several high-profile accidents ultimately doomed the jet, its real killer was the impractical economics, said Boom Supersonic founder and CEO Blake Scholl.

“The primary limitation on Concorde was economic. Because of the plane’s fuel inefficiency, tickets were $US20,000 a pop,” Scholl said. “And you just can’t fill 100 seats at $US20,000. It made some money from here to London, but you can’t build a business around that.”

Scholl intends to sell rides at prices comparable to what business class fliers pay today (about four to fives times what a coach seat costs). Boom will lean on the decades of technological advances that separate the design of the Concorde from that of the Overture, which has produced tools like composite fuselage materials and newly efficient turbofan engines.

Moreover, Boom has the advantage of working with modern design tools, such as advanced computer design software, instead of “pencil and paper” like the Concorde developers, Greg Krauland, chief engineer of the XB-1 program, said at an unveiling event.

The startup also expects to solve some of Concorde’s operational challenges. For instance, the Overture will use cameras to allow pilots to see around the supersonic jet’s unusual elongated nose, rather than having to develop a drop-nose mechanism like on the Concorde.

“Concorde had after-burning turbojet engines, like military-converted engines — perfect technology at the time,” Scholl said, “But today we’ve got turbofans, which are going to meet the latest noise standards,” avoiding a complaint that dogged the Concorde.

Like the Concorde, the Overture won’t be able to travel above Mach 1 — the speed of sound — without generating a sonic boom. Regulations will bar it from flying at supersonic speeds above many countries, including the US, so a two-hour New York-Los Angeles flight won’t happen anytime soon.

Little matter: Boom has identified 500 different routes on which supersonic flight is viable, Scholl said, and even though fares akin to today’s business class tickets are unaffordable for most people, he said he expects those prices, and the per-seat operating cost of supersonic flight, to eventually drop.

“The XB-1 is like our Tesla Roadster, and the Overture is our Model S, for a lot of people, but not quite everybody yet,” Scholl said. “In the next generation, we’ll go a notch cheaper.”

“We’re at business class economics with a 30% improvement in efficiency versus Concorde. We’ll find another 30% improvement [in the next generation] and you can match economies,” he added.

Simply designing a larger version of Overture, once that plane is successful, could be enough to bring the per-seat operating cost down, Scholl said.

“There are a lot of benefits you get just with scaling up to a larger aircraft,” he said. “Our vision for Boom is to be the company that builds a supersonic aircraft that everyone can fly on.”