Colorado-based Boom Supersonic wants to reintroduce commercial supersonic flights, which have been on hiatus since Concorde was retired in 2003 (Courtesy Boom Supersonic)

(CNN) —

A demonstration plane of what could be the new civilian supersonic aircraft, the first launched since the 1960s, took off in early March. It is a historic moment in the long-awaited new era of supersonic travel.

The XB-1, a technology demonstration aircraft built by Colorado-based Boom Supersonic, successfully completed its first test flight at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, it was announced on March 22.

The XB-1 program paves the way for the design and development of Boom's Overture airliner, which promises to be the world's first independently developed supersonic aircraft.

Now, 10 years after the Boom Supersonic project began in 2014, CEO Blake Scholl tells CNN Travel via video call that there are some exciting months ahead.

The hard part is over

"I'm a big believer in the return of supersonic air travel and ultimately bringing it to all passengers on all routes. And that's not something that will happen overnight," Scholl says. "The difficult part of building a supersonic aircraft is making something so sleek and so slippery take off and land safely."


The first flight of the

That's well below the altitudes reached by commercial airliners, which fly between 31,000 and 42,000 feet.

As for Mach 1 (the speed of sound), it is approximately 1,223 km/h, depending on altitude and temperature. But the plan is for XB-1 to achieve that supersonic ambition fairly quickly.

"We're going to do a whole series of flights (10 to 15 in total) over the next five to seven months to break the sound barrier for the first time," says Scholl.

Aerodynamics, materials, propulsion

There have only been two civilian supersonic aircraft: the Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 and the British-French Concorde, which last flew in October 2003, more than two decades ago.

Now, the industry is abuzz with supersonic and hypersonic projects, from NASA and Lockheed Martin's X-59 “quiet” plane, which limits the sonic boom, to Atlanta-based Hermeus, which this week unveiled its first flying plane. .

"The advent of digital engineering is a big enabler of why supersonic flight is coming back," explains Scholl. "Aerodynamics, materials, propulsion: those are the three big areas in which we have made great progress compared to the Concorde."

XB-1 made its first flight in March 2024. (Courtesy of Boom Supersonic)

Computational Fluid Dynamics

In the 1960s, Concorde was developed in wind tunnels, which meant building expensive physical models, testing them, and then repeating them.

"You can't test many designs when each iteration costs millions and takes months," explains Scholl. But Boom has refined the efficient aerodynamic design of its plane using computational fluid dynamics. “It's basically a digital wind tunnel. “We can run the equivalent of hundreds of wind tunnel tests overnight in simulation for a fraction of the cost of a real wind tunnel test.”

The XB-1 is made almost entirely of carbon fiber composites, selected for being strong and lightweight.

Augmented reality vision system

The Concorde famously reduced drag when reaching supersonic speeds by having a long, pointed nose on a hinge that tilted forward when taking off, landing, and taxiing so pilots could see the runway.

“Nowadays we have something amazing called a camera and display,” says a smiling Scholl, explaining the XB-1's unique augmented reality vision system. Instead of requiring a complex moving nose and windshield views, the craft uses two nose-mounted cameras, digitally augmented with altitude and flight path indications.

"It's much better than the view the Concorde ever had," Scholl says, and the augmented reality symbology will help pilots line up the target and achieve "a beautiful landing every time."

Powered by sustainable fuel

So, with the aviation industry aiming to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, where does a supersonic aircraft that flies at twice the speed of modern conventional aircraft fit into all this?

The XB-1 is designed to run on conventional jet engines and run on up to 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

We've already covered the so-far slow adoption of SAF here at CNN Travel, and Scholl is well aware of its current problems.

"There's not enough of it and it costs too much, but it's growing," Scholl says, but he estimates that one day it will be used for all long-haul air travel. It is the “future of aviation,” he declares.

Need for speed

Scholl admits that “flying faster intrinsically requires more energy consumption,” but maintains: “We shouldn't have to choose between being climate-friendly and passenger-friendly. “In fact, we can accelerate the transition to low-carbon transportation by ensuring that the most desirable aircraft is also the most climate-friendly.”

Scholl compares today's transatlantic air travel to “driving across the Atlantic in a not-so-good SUV.” Aboard an Overture, crossing the Atlantic will be like crossing it in a Tesla. And yes, it will consume more energy, but from a climate perspective, it doesn't matter because the energy source is green.”

XB-1 made its maiden flight in Mojave, California. (Courtesy of Boom Supersonic)

"If we have faster planes, we don't need as many"

Also, it defends other efficiencies that faster flights offer.

“A faster plane is much more efficient from a human perspective and much more efficient from a capital perspective. “You can do more flights with the same plane and the same crew,” says Scholl. “We can significantly reduce all the costs and impact that come with airplanes by making them faster. “If we have faster planes, we don’t need as many.”

The reason we don't use propeller flights between London and New York, he says, is that while it might consume less energy than a jet engine, it would be "more expensive and more impactful overall, because going half the speed." speed you would need much more.”

He predicts that, in the same way that jet planes replaced propeller planes, “in your lifetime and mine, supersonic will replace today's jet planes, and will be faster, more sustainable and more affordable.” .

“Anywhere in the world in four hours for 100 dollars”

When CNN Travel spoke with Scholl in May 2021, he told us his dream was that one day people could “fly anywhere in the world in four hours for $100.” Three years later, he says she's still his "North Star."

"If you look back at the Concorde, built with 1960s technology, it was like a £20,000 note and it just wasn't affordable," Scholl says.

In the first version of Boom's Overture aircraft, called Overture One, "our goal is to reduce that by a factor of four and be able to have supersonic flights available to the tens of millions of people who can fly in business class today."

The long-term vision is that later versions of Overture (there are plans for Overture Two, then Overture Three) will bring supersonic flight on more routes to more passengers at lower costs.

Boom's goal is to reduce flights to “half the time or less than what it takes today.” The ultimate goal is “flights that are faster, more affordable, more convenient and more sustainable.” And we will continue working on that until we can travel effortlessly around the planet.”

2024 is “one of the most important years yet”

Boom aims to transport its first passengers on Overture (between 64 and 80, at speeds of Mach 1.7) before the end of the decade. It currently has an order book of 130 orders and pre-orders from customers such as American Airlines, United Airlines and Japan Airlines.

Scholl says: “2024 will be one of the most important years yet for supersonic flight. Later this year we will open the superfactory in Greensboro, North Carolina, where we will build Overture. And then we are ready for the races.”

Above all, he is proud to lead “a private company with a business model that scales,” he says. "The world needs an innovative new commercial aircraft manufacturer."

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