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IPFS News Link • Transportation: Air Travel

Will Supersonic Flying Actually Take Off? These Companies Think So.


At its height in the early 1970s, the Concorde was the Champagne-and-caviar incarnation of supersonic travel, and it remained so until noise and emissions restrictions sunsetted the quixotic aircraft in 2003. Two decades after the Concorde's final flight, Blake Scholl, founder and CEO of Boom Supersonic, is again extolling the potential of flying faster than the speed of sound. "Speed is not just about going fast," he says. "It's about who we can spend time with, who we fall in love with and where we can do business." He's hardly alone in his infatuation with the idea of a supersonic revival. 

Other ventures attempting to resuscitate the genre include Spike Aerospace, which is developing a supersonic corporate jet, and Lockheed Martin, which is contracted to build NASA's X-59 for possible civilian use. Upping the ante are outfits such as Destinus and Hermeus, which aim to leave the competition behind with hypersonic velocities that quintuple the speed of sound. Yet numerous efforts have fallen back to earth, among them Aerion, once considered the supersonic industry leader, which abruptly closed its doors in 2021 after nearly 20 years of revving everyone's hopes. 

Boom is also encountering headwinds, not least of which is its name. Since 1973, supersonic travel over the U.S. and Europe has been banned due to the disruptive effects of the audible blast that occurs when the sound barrier is broken. Scholl says Boom's first aircraft, Overture, will reach Mach 1.7 on overwater flights, but over land it will fly at the subsonic speed of Mach 0.94, within existing noise regulations. Unlike the Concorde and its afterburner-capable thrusters, Boom plans to use a medium-bypass turbofan engine, dubbed Symphony, that will be outfitted with extensive noise-mitigation features. On paper, Boom's prospects look promising and include 130 orders from carriers such as American, United and Japan Airlines, as well as a partnership with Northrup Grumman for military applications. It also recently broke ground on a new factory in North Carolina, where it says the Overture will be in production sometime next year. But many in business aviation are skeptical that the aircraft will ever fly, especially after major engine builders including Pratt & WhitneyRolls-RoyceGE AviationHoneywell Aerospace and Safran have all stated they have no interest in developing propulsion for the jet.