Seventeen years after Concorde operators British Airways and Air France announced the retirement of the type, Boom Technology on Wednesday rolled out XB-1, a scaled down model of what promises to be a faster and more environmentally friendly supersonic passenger aircraft.
Since its startup in 2014, the aviation outsider has been toiling away to bring supersonic passenger flight back into being. The unveiling of the completed XB-1 demonstrator prototype represents a milestone in the pursuit of superfast air travel alongside competitors such as Aerion Supersonic, Spike Aerospace and Virgin Galactic.
Designed for a single rider—the test pilot—the XB-1 will demonstrate key technologies for Overture, Boom’s commercial airliner, such as advanced carbon fiber composite construction, computer-optimized high-efficiency aerodynamics, and an efficient supersonic propulsion system.
The XB-1 roll out is the culmination of years of development effort, including multiple wind tunnel tests, dozens of structural tests, hundreds of simulation iterations, and tens of thousands of work hours.
“Six years ago, I didn’t think we had great odds of ever getting here,” says Boom’s CEO Blake Scholl. “It took longer than I thought it would, but it actually happened.”
Nicknamed Baby Boom, the 71-foot XB-1 is set to make its maiden flight early next year, reaching a speed of Mach 1.3 before going even faster as testing progresses. Boom hopes to turn its focus in late 2021 to completing the design of its first commercial plane, dubbed Overture.
The 199-foot Overture will carry 65 to 88 business-class passengers in roomy seats on each side of the aisle, guaranteeing all both a window and an aisle seat.
When entered into service towards the end of the decade, Overture will fly twice as fast as today’s jetliners. A trip from New York to London will fall from 6 ½ hours to 3 ½ hours, and San Francisco to Tokyo will drop from 10 hours and 15 minutes to 6 hours. Boom expects Overture to fly between more city pairs than the Concorde previously flew.
In September, Boom signed a contract with the U.S. Air Force to explorate an Overture configuration designed for Air Force executive transport.
Boom’s XB-1 notable features include:
- Shape: XB-1’s 71-foot-long fuselage has been optimally shaped for high-speed aerodynamic efficiency.
- Materials: The carbon-composite airframe maintains its strength and rigidity, even under the high temperatures and stresses of supersonic flight.
- Wing: The delta wing balances low-speed stability at takeoff and landing with high-speed efficiency.
- Propulsion: Three J85-15 engines, designed by General Electric, provide more than 12,000 pounds of thrust, allowing XB-1 to fly at breakthrough supersonic speeds.
- Cockpit ergonomics: Guidance and feedback from XB-1’s test pilots played a key role in cockpit design, which was the product of hundreds of hours of human factors and usability testing.
- Forward vision system: XB-1 leverages a high-resolution video camera and cockpit display to give pilots a virtual window through the nose, providing superior runway visibility for landing.