Smithsonian hosts supersonic panel with NASA, GE Aviation and Boom

Supersonic innovators discuss the legacy of Concorde and what’s next for the industry.

Speed and durability combined with low emissions and low noise are the defining factors for the future of supersonic flight. That’s according to industry experts Joel Kirk of GE Aviation, Peter Coen of NASA’s low boom flight demonstration program, and Joe Wilding of Boom Supersonic.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum recently hosted an evening panel for these three industry leaders to share their organizations’ mission and progress in bringing supersonic back to the mainstream.

Remembering the Concorde

Lawrence Azerrad, founder of LADdesign and author of “Supersonic: The Design and Lifestyle of Concorde” introduced the discussion with a tale of remembrance.

“To see our best future, sometimes we have to look back,” said Azerrad. “The era of Concorde brought a palpable hopefulness for a better future, a spirit of curiosity and optimism, and an idea of a better world yet to come.”

Where Concorde’s lofty vision was hampered by inefficiencies and poor economics, innovation in supersonic has pressed forward. Though history’s first and only supersonic airliner retired from the skies in 2003, its story has invigorated a supersonic resurgence.

“We have the capacity, and an obligation, to design, engineer, and realize the future that we should have today and tomorrow,” concluded Lawrence.

NASA’s low boom technology drives towards a faster overland travel experience.
NASA’s X-59 QueSST is a supersonic X-plane built for research in low-boom technology. Image courtesy NASA.

Peter Coen, the project manager of NASA’s low boom flight demonstration mission, is leading the design and build of an X-plane that reduces the loudness and impact of supersonic booms. “We represent a community looking to bring supersonic to a broad spectrum of the traveling public.” said Coen. “Our vision is that supersonic aircraft can fly overland without creating disturbing sounds and, when compared to Concorde, be efficient, affordable, and environmentally responsible.”

NASA’s supersonic X-plane, the X-59 QueSST, is currently in fabrication and expected to take first flight in 2021. “The X-plane approach focuses on defining the minimum set of key requirements necessary to achieve results.” As a result, the X-59 QueSST shares the acoustic signal of a future larger supersonic commercial aircraft.

Community overflight tests, slated for 2023, will provide data to the FAA and International Civil Aviation Organization and support standard setting for safe and environmentally-responsible operations worldwide.

“Setting these standards will open the market for a new era of supersonic travel overland and in airline operations,” Coen concluded.

GE Aviation optimizes engines for emissions, durability, and noise

In preparation for a supersonic reality, GE Aviation is optimizing engine emissions, durability, and noise. “We’re reducing emissions through better performing engines, lighter weight engines, and lower emission fuel capability,” said Kirk. “We address durability by utilizing advanced cooling technology, having the best materials we can, and understanding our parts and how long they are going to last. “We’re addressing noise with new mixer technology and installation of the engine and the ability to have variable geometry.”

“Our industry, on average, is improving at one-percent per year,” said Joel Kirk, executive leader of Advanced Systems Design and Technology at GE. “It may not sound like a lot but when compared to other industries like automotive and power, it’s significant. Fifteen years from now, our products will be 15-percent better in performance.”

Kirk concluded by acknowledging the inevitability of supersonic.“There is a lot of new technology available to make this possible and there continues to be investment in it,” concluded Kirk, “I’m proud to say that at GE, we’re committed to be at the front of that.”

Boom puts innovation to work
Overture will be the world’s fastest commercial airliner.

Alongside such long standing leaders of the aviation industry, Boom co-founder and CTO Joe Wilding shared Boom’s vision and stories of progress.

“It’s about removing the barriers to experiencing the planet,” said Wilding. “We’re focused on bringing back the vision, excitement, and inspiration that Concorde delivered.”

Leading the effort to return a new generation of supersonic transport to commercial service, Boom is currently in the build phase of XB-1, a supersonic demonstrator aircraft. “XB-1 will prove this technology works and that we can achieve the efficiency levels necessary for viable supersonic air travel,” said Wilding.

XB-1 is Boom’s supersonic demonstrator aircraft.

“We’re not inventing new technology,” said Wilding. “We’re capitalizing on the advancements and certified, subsonic technologies of today and incorporating them in a supersonic airplane that can achieve Concorde’s same mission.”

Powered by three J85 General electric engines, XB-1 will demonstrate everything discussed in this panel and pave the way for what is to become history’s fastest commercial airliner, Overture.


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