Q&A: Meet Nick Sheryka, XB-1 Chief Flight Test Engineer

Hear how Nick’s aviation passion grew into a career that led him to XB-1’s inaugural flight

On March 22nd, Chief Flight Test Engineer Nick Sheryka was leading his teams in the control room as XB-1 successfully executed its inaugural flight. As one of Boom’s first employees to work on the supersonic demonstrator, it was a particularly rewarding accomplishment. In his role, Nick is responsible for ensuring all of the aircraft systems work together safely to execute various flight test points. For his many achievements and over a decade of diverse aerospace engineering experience, Nick was recently named 2024 AIAA Rocky Mountain Section Professional Engineer of the Year. 

Prior to Boom, Nick worked on several prototype experimental aircraft subsystems and bleeding-edge technology flight test teams at Scaled Composites and Stratolaunch. Nick has also worked for the Department of Defense and obtained qualifications to operate three types of naval nuclear reactor plants.

Continue reading to learn more about what inspired Nick to pursue a career in aviation, his reflections on taking XB-1 from concept to the skies, and what’s next for the program.

Where does your interest in aviation come from? 

My grandfather was a World War II ace fighter pilot — one of the best in the Pacific Theatre — known for his aerial skill and honorable disposition. The imagery of flying above the world that his stories would conjure was enough to inspire a lifetime’s pursuit.

However, where it really started was with crayons and blank paper. My constant points of reference were the photos of my grandfather’s P-40 Warhawk and P-38 Lightning — both named “My Marie,” after my Grandmother. I dutifully tried to replicate the lines that these machines made against the sky. Crayon drawings gave way to plastic model aircraft I assembled with my father. In high school, plastic models gave way to radio control models I built and learned to fly. 

What inspired you to pursue a career in this space? 

To be honest, I simply love airplanes, however I didn’t start in aerospace. My first job was working as a test engineer for the US Navy submarine program. In my free time, I earned my pilot’s license and started building a small airplane in my garage. Read more about that home-built airplane and the adventure of flying it across the country here. The enjoyment of those two efforts convinced me that I should be working in aviation. I am lucky to have discovered my niche; specializing in new aircraft prototypes where I can apply my experience to safely bring the visions of new missions or capabilities into reality.

What was it like when you first joined Boom? 

I became employee #15 at Boom in 2016, when the company was in its early stage. At this time, it was a smaller team and I was working with a blank sheet to define and develop the supersonic technical demonstrator, now known as XB-1, that would come to be the first step to reintroducing commercial supersonic travel to the world. 

How does it feel playing a role in bringing XB-1 from idea to first flight? What has that journey been like?

Lots of hard work, and many long nights. We had our milestones to help us navigate from that clean sheet of paper to the first flight, but not everything went according to plan.  Designing for the mission of XB-1, under the resource constraints of a new startup was very challenging. So it took a lot of creativity, and frankly grit, to get it done. After each hard day, I would just try to remind myself that it was “just another quarter in the piggy bank – it’ll be worth it some day”.

It is one thing to design an airplane on paper, but something else entirely to build, activate and test it. XB-1 is a complex system of systems, each having many components that all interact with one another. For example, the electrical & avionic subsystems have over 12,000 wiring termination points.  Each point of interaction needs to be thoroughly tested. Sometimes those minor interactions work just as you intended, sometimes they do not, and you have to figure out why. You do this over and over again, until you can believe that the aircraft is safe to take into the air.

Another major example of this was in the design of our supersonic engine intakes.  The intakes interact with the external atmospheric environment to deliver ideally-conditioned airflow to the engines. They are optimized for high-speed flight, which makes for compromises in the design at slow speed. We thought we had enough margin there, but we were wrong, and it resulted in engine stalls during our ground testing campaign. It is very tough emotionally to realize that you are looking at what is probably a 6 month delay, but it is also an opportunity to get really smart about a relevant design consideration through fixing it. More quarters into that piggy bank.

Almost every aspect of XB-1 required getting through a humbling moment like this. I eventually started thinking about the airplane like the “Golden Goose”; no way to tell how many opportunities lay inside, but it consistently produced these golden-egg opportunities to really refine our craft in the design of supersonic aircraft. There is no team outside of the military industrial complex, complete with orders of magnitude more resources available to them, that actually produces technology like this. And even there, they might produce one new design every 20 years or so. That is what the XB-1 program was all about, learning the types of lessons that one only can by having been there, done that, developing a full scale human-rated platform. And doing it on a technology demonstrator as a stepping stone to a commercially viable product like Overture.

What was the day of XB-1’s first flight like for you? 

The best way that I can describe it is like being a little kid, finally getting to smash open that piggy bank you have been putting quarters into for years. I have been fortunate enough in my career to be a part of several new-configuration first flights; but XB-1’s in particular was the largest emotional validation I have ever received. I woke up that morning before the flight remembering the mountain of effort, not just my own but that of hundreds of talented people, all of it at risk of being for naught if this didn’t work. There was a tremendous sense of satisfaction watching the first takeoff, and more importantly the first safe landing, of a new aircraft that you have poured your heart and soul into. Especially with XB-1 being the company’s first aircraft program; it was a real zero-to-one moment for myself, the team, and Boom Supersonic.

What’s your dream plane to fly? 

It has been an incredible opportunity to fly the T-38 supersonic trainer aircraft with our two test pilots, Bill “Doc” Shoemaker and Tristan “Geppetto” Brandenburg. With a cockpit environment and performance similar to XB-1, I was able to build a seat-of-the-pants experience base to draw from. Having a sense for what it feels like to them, and with the ability to anticipate the pilot workload constraints they are challenged with in the cockpit, I am able to more effectively communicate in real time and do my job better from the control room.

What’s next for XB-1? 

Now that XB-1 has successfully completed its first flight and secured the first-ever Special Flight Authorization (SFA) to Exceed Mach 1 from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the team will systematically expand the flight envelope to confirm its performance and handling qualities through and beyond Mach 1. This includes in-flight checks of all systems, as well as multiple test points demonstrating safe margin to flutter (vibration) boundaries. There are a total of 10-20 flights planned before reaching supersonic speeds. From there, we will gather all of the lessons learned, scale them up, and apply them to the Overture program.


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