Boom Supersonic last week announced a key milestone in the spirited search for a successor to the Concorde. Blake Scholl’s Denver-based aerospace company said its demonstrator XB-1 will roll out on 7 October 2020. If all goes well that Wednesday in October, the world next year will see Boom’s first supersonic flight – 17 years after the unforgettable Concorde retired on 14 October 2003 as the most magnificent aircraft ever built.
With XB-1, Scholl gets closer to building the supersonic Overture, the world’s fastest aircraft.
“The completion of XB-1’s assembly marks a turning point in commercial viability for supersonic travel,” Scholl told global media.
He expects the supersonic airliner to be “one of the most transformative airliner programs in history”. Overture and XB-1 will be stepping stones to faster and more economical aircraft, in the endless search for safer, better, quicker, cheaper human travel. Built with more carbon fibre composite lightweight material than the Concorde, Overture aircraft will fly at more than twice the speed of sound at Mach 2.2 (2,300 km/h).
“With XB-1, we’re demonstrating that we are ready to bring back supersonic flights,” said Scholl, founder and chief executive officer of Boom.
“We’re ensuring that the supersonic future is safe and environmentally and economically sustainable.”
The demand for supersonic flights has grown faster than we had anticipated, Scholl declared. But supersonic aircraft makers such as Boom and the Boston-based Spike Aerospace have me again asking the question: why does India remain out of the world’s civil aviation aircraft manufacturing map? With no famine of talent, engineering skills, manpower and financial resources, why does India not yet have an entity anywhere near a Boeing or an Airbus? What does India need to do to nurture entrepreneurially daring and technology-creating visionaries – with greater targets, industrial foresight and manufacturing self-confidence? The list of aviation technology pioneers worldwide carries one Indian name – Shivkar Bapuji Talpade (1864–1916) born in Bombay, who launched an unmanned aeroplane called Marutsakha in 1895. But Talpade’s aircraft has no scientific confirmation.
The mystery deepens with India having the world’s leading innovative, cost-effective spaceflight company in the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Could not the ISRO build an equivalent to XB-1, the world’s first independently developed supersonic jet? Does India not have entrepreneurial minds as daring and visionary as Elon Musk, founder of the world’s most successful private space company SpaceX? Why cannot there be a Blake Scholl in India? His six-year-old Boom Supersonic, with just 130 full-time employees, has about 30 Overture supersonic aircraft pre-ordered from Japan Airlines and the Virgin Group. Building a commercial 21st-century civil aviation aircraft will be in India’s agenda this 21st century.
Young entrepreneurial engineering minds in the country, sooner or later, will dare to work for this aviation dream to become reality.
Blake Scholl and Boom pursued that dream even as a pandemic wrecked the global aviation industry. Their XB-1 will demonstrate key technology for future supersonic flights, including an efficient propulsion system and computer-optimized aerodynamics.
“Our experiences in the Covid-19 pandemic underscore for all of us the fundamental human need for personal connection,” said Scholl.
“Faster travel enables us to experience the world’s people, cultures and places, and XB-1 is the first step in bringing supersonic back to the world.”
Unlike Concorde that mostly flew between London/Paris to New York, the Overture will serve 500 viable routes worldwide, with the potential market for 1,000 supersonic airliners. Each can carry 55 passengers at business class prices.
Overture aims to be the fastest and most sustainable supersonic airliner, flying twice as fast as any commercial aeroplane now. If successful, it will reduce an eight-hour flight from Mumbai to Frankfurt to less than four hours. London to New York will take three-and-a-half hours, Los Angeles to Sydney eight hours instead of 14.
“Speed isn’t about going really fast,” Scholl said.
“It’s about closeness. It’s about making distant places feel like they’re right around the corner…turning far off lands into familiar neighbours.”
The Boom team believes the current condition of aerospace technology has brought supersonic operating costs closer to those of subsonic flights—and many times better than during the Concorde’s halcyon days. Perhaps Overture fliers will not receive the royal treatment as aboard the Concorde.
Concorde flight attendants served gourmet food 18 km above sea level with the temperature outside at minus 70 degrees Celsius. A coin could be balanced on its edge on the food tray.
So steady was the Concorde flying 60,000 ft high – flying faster than a rifle bullet. After the Concorde, sustainable supersonic passenger flight was dismissed as a financial pipe dream. Not with the Blake Scholl tribe.
Supersonic aircraft makers like Boom and Spike Aerospace believe money can be made in supersonic technology, with new investment enabling faster aircraft at a lower cost.
“Think about how the world will change when Mach-4 travel is available at today’s economy class prices”, Scholl says.
Boom’s Overture may well resurrect the Concorde days, with more success and with no net increase in carbon emissions. At supersonic speeds, luxurious first-class suites may disappear along with long-haul flights. No more $31,000 and $68,000 (Rs 51 lakhs) for ‘The Residence’ suite aboard an Etihad Airways A380. “Removing these extravagances saves weight and floor space and therefore reduces fuel burn,” says Scholl.
“As we see it at Boom, the pursuit of ever-faster travel speed is really a moral imperative.”
Quicker travel, deeper cultural integration, speedier economic growth all followed quicker modes of transport across history. From the bullock cart still surviving across millennia, the locomotive train, steamships, passenger cars, the early civilian aircraft and supersonic flight – all mark points in a rapidly evolving graph of a human species that essentially live with the nomadic spirit at heart. “When you can get anywhere in half the time, where will you go?” ask Scholl and Boom, insisting the future of travel is supersonic.
Regular post-Concorde supersonic flights will become another civilization frontier crossed – courtesy technology pioneers with a big heart, determination, persistence and unrelenting hard work to back courageous convictions. These are qualities for India to develop as a world leader.
The writer is a senior, Mumbai-based journalist.