A Colorado pilot and entrepreneur and Sir Richard Branson have joined forces to help create the next generation of supersonic transportation. Virgin Atlantic earlier this week secured options for the first 10 aircraft from a new supersonic jet from a start-up company appropriately named Boom.
The company plans to produce a 40 seat supersonic jet with range to fly from LA to Sydney at speeds slightly faster than Concorde, around Mach 2.2. The more interesting aspect is that the company believes it can be profitable at today’s business class prices, at about $5,000 from New York to London, less than half of what Concorde fares were while it was in service.
Boom Technology was founded by its CEO, Blake Scholl, whose background is primarily in Silicon Valley. A private pilot, Scholl started a mobile shopping app maker, Kima Labs, which was acquired by Groupon in 2012. That purchase provided the initial capital and opportunity to pursue the new project.
Earlier this year, the company moved into a hangar at Centennial Airport near Denver and has grown its staff to 11 people with strong industry experience. Their chief engineer and co-founder, Joe Wilding, worked with three aerospace start-ups. Their head of propulsion, Andy Berryann, was formerly at Pratt & Whitney. Other initial hires have experience at NASA, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Scaled Composites.
The Proposed Aircraft
The Boom aircraft will differ from Concorde in that it will utilize carbon fiber composites rather than aluminum to reduce weight. Carbon fiber composites are less sensitive to the intense heat generated in supersonic flight, and will retain its shape better than aluminum.
Their goal is to be 30% more efficient than the Concorde, while being much quieter with a lower sonic boom. The aircraft would sit 40 passengers in one plus one configuration, with every passenger having both an aisle and window seat. Given the shorter flight time, the seats will be conventional first class seats rather than sleepers. The aircraft will cruise at 60,000 feet and cruise at 1,400 mph. Planned range is adequate for a 6 hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, and routes shorter than that 7,400 mile distance.
Boom’s current plans are to build and fly a 1/3rd scale plane by the end of 2017. To date, Boom has raised $2.1 million for the initial development stage including investments from several angel and venture capital companies, including Y Combinator, Sam Atlman, Seraph Group, SVC, and other unnamed companies. Virgin Spaceship company has agreed to assist Boom with engineering, design and manufacturing, flight test and operations services during the development program.
The engines for the proposed aircraft have not been identified, and it is difficult for low-bypass engines required for supersonic travel to be as efficient as high bypass engines for subsonic travel. Nonetheless, Boom is pushing forward to develop a prototype.
With a plan to have capital and operating costs low enough to be profitable at a $5,000 round-trip fare, there would likely be a ready market for this aircraft. The key, of course, is keeping costs down to levels competitive with today’s jets. That would mean trip costs per seat would need to be less than double today’s costs for wide-body subsonic aircraft. Can that goal be achieved? If it can, we believe there would be a number of markets for which this service could be quite viable.
Today, companies like PrivatAir run Boeing BBJ and Airbus A319CJ service with all business class seats to several smaller cities, with a similar number of seats in business class locations successfully for several airlines.
The major question is if — if it can be efficient enough for lower fares than Concorde, and if it can be developed with a reasonable capital cost, there is a market for this aircraft. Building advanced aircraft is difficult, and getting them certified expensive. But with high technology tools and modeling, a lot can be done with computers before composites are formed into shape and metal cut.
The Bottom Line
Innovation comes from many places, and we’ve seen some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs succeed in aerospace –Elan Musk has Space X and Jeff Bezos has Blue Origin. Why not Blake Scholl and Boom?