The Revival of Supersonic Travel

The first flight of XB-1 paves the way for the return of supersonic travel that’s more affordable, more convenient, and more sustainable

There have only been two civil supersonic airliners to enter regular service: the Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 and the British-French Concorde, which flew for the last time more than two decades ago in October 2003. On March 22, 2024, XB-1 became the first independently developed supersonic jet to take flight, paving the way for the return of supersonic travel onboard Overture, Boom’s sustainable supersonic airliner. Unlike its predecessors, Overture is designed to be economically and environmentally sustainable, with the ability to take supersonic flight from an experience limited to few to routine travel for millions of passengers worldwide.

First flown commercially in 1976, Concorde’s sleek design represented the future of aviation at the time. With a cruising speed of over twice the speed of sound, Concorde could travel from London to New York in about three hours. With faster flights came the promise of a more connected planet.

Concorde may have actually been ahead of its time. The supersonic aircraft didn’t have the efficiency benefits of modern aircraft materials and technologies and entered service when the international travel market was one-tenth the size of what it is today. Born from a competition among countries, Concorde was, in some ways, a build-at-all-cost aircraft which impacted its economics and commercial appeal to airlines outside of British Airways and Air France. Concorde went on to fly for 27 years across a limited set of transatlantic routes. Eventually, the cost to service and maintain the plane and the resulting restrictive ticket prices led to its shutdown in 2003. By the end of its lifetime, only 20 Concorde aircraft were built with 14 entering service. While Concorde was neither economically or environmentally sustainable, it did provide a glimpse into the breakthrough possibilities associated with faster flights.

Source: United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Skift Research, 2019 Estimated at Time of Study

XB-1 Informs Overture

Now, 50 years later, XB-1, the world’s first independently developed supersonic jet, took flight at the Mojave Air & Space Port in Mojave, California on March 22, 2024. XB-1 was flown by Boom Chief Test Pilot Bill “Doc” Shoemaker, and Test Pilot Tristan “Geppetto” Brandenburg flew the T-38 chase aircraft which monitored XB-1 in the air. Now that XB-1 has successfully completed its first flight, the team will systematically expand the flight envelope to confirm its performance and handling qualities through and beyond Mach 1.

Boom also recently received a first-of-its-kind Special Flight Authorization (SFA) to Exceed Mach 1 from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This SFA will allow XB-1 to conduct supersonic operations in Mojave and specifically in the Black Mountain Supersonic Corridor and in a portion of the High Altitude Supersonic Corridor within the R-2515 airspace, which has been used extensively for research and military supersonic aeronautical operations. 

Ongoing testing of Boom’s supersonic demonstrator aircraft is bringing the world closer to the return of commercial supersonic flight onboard Overture. The XB-1 program provides the foundation for the design and development of Overture, while establishing a safety-first culture in engineering and manufacturing. XB-1 validates key technologies and innovations, including:

Augmented reality vision system: Two nose-mounted cameras, digitally augmented with attitude and flight path indications, feed a high resolution pilot display enabling excellent runway visibility. This system enables improved aerodynamic efficiency without the weight and complexity of a movable nose.

Digitally-optimized aerodynamics: Engineers used computational fluid dynamics simulations to explore thousands of designs for XB-1. The result is an optimized design that combines safe and stable operation at takeoff and landing with efficiency at supersonic speeds.

Carbon fiber composites: XB-1 is almost entirely made from carbon fiber composite materials, enabling it to realize a sophisticated aerodynamic design in a strong, lightweight structure.

Supersonic intakes: XB-1’s engine intakes slow supersonic air to subsonic speeds, efficiently converting kinetic energy into pressure energy, allowing conventional jet engines to power XB-1 from takeoff through supersonic flight.

Achieving Economic and Environmental Sustainability with Overture

The achievements of Concorde remind us that supersonic travel is possible; Overture highlights that supersonic travel for passengers is not just in the near future, but it’s both economically viable and environmentally sustainable.

Overture leverages computational design tools that enable comprehensive aircraft optimization, modern materials such as carbon fiber composites that greatly improve aerodynamics and efficiency, and technologies that ensure Overture is optimized for sustainability. While history’s supersonic airliners served only a handful of routes, Boom has identified over 600 profitable routes across the globe at fares that are affordable for passengers and profitable for Boom’s airline partners, that today include United Airlines, American Airlines, and Japan Airlines. 

And global travelers are ready for a revival of supersonic flight. In a recent study with global premium passengers, interest in supersonic air travel is sky high, driven by faster flight times. 97% of passengers are interested in flying supersonic and 87% of passengers are willing to switch from their preferred airline to access supersonic.

Overture is designed to carry 64-80 passengers and to fly on up to 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Boom has secured 10 million gallons of net zero carbon SAF per year from Dimensional Energy and AIR COMPANY for the duration of the Overture flight test program. Both companies produce sustainable fuels from waste CO2 using only renewable energy, allowing Boom to directly close the carbon loop.

A Faster and More Connected World

With Overture and the realization of sustainable supersonic air travel, there’s an opportunity to harness next generation speed and sustainability to advance the ways we connect with others, experience the world, and conduct business. Flying at 2x the speed of today’s passenger airliners, Overture has the power to make the world dramatically more accessible through flights that are faster, more affordable, more convenient, and more sustainable.

Imagine Tokyo to Seattle in four and a half hours instead of eight, flying from Boston to Paris and back home in time to tuck the kids into bed. Los Angeles to Tahiti in just over 4 hours. The idea of a weekend trip expands to adventures abroad without sacrificing full days for travel. Envision New York to London in 3:40 hours and back in the same day, or an extra night at home before meetings in Tokyo. Supersonic travel has the potential to change where we do business, it changes where we vacation, and it even changes who we can fall in love with. 

Revolutionizing travel by bringing cities, cultures, and people closer while reshaping global business and leisure travel has always been at the core of Boom’s mission to make the world dramatically more accessible.


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