Is Supersonic Commercial Air Travel Making a Comeback?

Virgin and startup company Boom aim to make supersonic commercial air travel a reality once again.

Boom's vision for the future of supersonic air travel. (Image courtesy of Boom.)

Boom’s vision for the future of supersonic air travel. (Image courtesy of Boom.)

Supersonic commercial air travel has been grounded for over a decade. On November 26, 2003, British Airways landed the final commercial supersonic trans-Atlantic jaunt.

In the 13-years since, the thought of supersonic travel hasn’t been far from the minds of many in the aerospace industry. Now, in a return to that once-defunct, high-flying era, start-up company Boom has unveiled a new supersonic aircraft design.

Called the XB-1 Supersonic Demonstrator (more lovingly known as “Baby Boom”), the one-third scale demonstrator craft has been outfitted to carry a pilot, avionics and little else.

In a recent interview with The Verge, Blake Scholl, CEO of Boom, the motivation to begin building the Baby Boom hits close to home.

“I’ve got little kids, and their grandpa lives in Hong Kong, which is 18 hours away,” Said Scholl. “They see him once a year, and they’ll never be close. It’s because we’re basically flying with the same airplanes we were using when my grandparents were little.”

Currently, Boom expects the XB-1 to begin test flights in 2017. If all goes according to plan, Boom will expand the XB-1 design to a more commercially viable model that will ferry 44 passengers at a time. Though the commercial version of the XB-1 is still in the conceptual stage, Scholl imagines that his supersonic passenger plane will be able to travel from New York to London in three and a half hours and from Los Angeles to Sydney in just under seven hours.  Tickets will run passengers a relatively reasonable $5k.

But lest you think Boom is kooky, fly-by-night operation, Virgin’s very own Richard Branson (who has a history of interest in the Concorde and supersonic flight) has vouchsafed the project. To that end Virgin has pledged to help with upfront R&D and eventually the conglomerate’s in-house aerospace arm “The Spaceship Company”, will also swoop in to aid in any production and logistical challenges.

So, what does Branson get if his gamble on Boom eventually pays off?

Nothing short of a temporary monopoly on supersonic commercial flight.

If all goes according to plan, Virgin Galactic will have the right to purchase Boom’s first 10 craft.

For more supersonic news, find out who won NASA’s contract for a supersonic passenger X-plane.