Commercial supersonic hopeful Boom Aerospace scored a big win this week, announcing a $10 million investment from Japan Airlines. The funding scores JAL options on 20 of the Boom Supersonic jets, adding to the order backlog. More importantly, however, the deal gets JAL a seat at the table with respect to cabin design, passenger amenities and flight deck features. Boom has plenty of ideas about what the cabin could and should look like but JAL will now get to help refine those designs.
The spec for Boom’s supersonic jet provides for an aircraft that flies at Mach 2.2 or 1,450 miles per hour. That speed can cut travel time between Tokyo and Hong Kong to just over 2 hours from the current 5 hour trip. Singapore becomes a 3ish hour trip rather than 8. Alas, the range of the aircraft is set at 4,500 nautical miles, leaving a San Francisco or other US markets as requiring a stop en route. Still, even with the fuel stop the total travel time would be significantly faster than the current 11-14 hour trips.
The potential for a return to supersonic travel is spectacularly attractive. Nostalgia for the “glory days” of Concorde drives much of the vision but improved business travel is where the real financial value can theoretically come from. Boom’s CEO Blake Scholl hopes the more efficient aircraft operation plus its smaller size will bring fares down to the region of $5000 one way per passenger.
The goal is to also reduce the sonic boom by 30x, a significant challenge but also likely a necessary step to drive adoption of operation over land. For Japan the sonic boom impact is reduced as the vast majority of air travel to and from the country is over the ocean surrounding the country’s islands.
While the XB-1 demonstration aircraft is still proposed to fly by the end of 2018 there are many other questions around the long-term viability of the project. For starters, a $51 million budget is nowhere close to sufficient to develop, test and certify a new commercial aircraft. Such efforts often range in to the billions of dollars.
— Tim Robinson (@RAeSTimR) November 13, 2017
Also challenging for the project is the search for a power plant. While the XB-1 will use existing engine technology the larger version does not yet have a solution identified. That’s a decision the company expects to make in 2018 as the XB-1 final build work progresses. Getting a clean-sheet engine designed, built and integrated into the Boom aircraft given the budget and time pressures would be most impressive.
Read More: The false hope of supersonic travel in 2018
With both JAL and Virgin Atlantic (the first to sign on, though without the significant financial stake) helping to back the operation Boom has some of the necessary industry backing it will need to realize success. Getting major airlines to commit matters. But getting their cash matters more. The 76 “pre-orders” (now as high as 96 with the JAL options) number is significant but getting the real funding to leap from the $51mm model development effort will be the real proof of Boom’s future potential.
Read more: Boom is poised to go supersonic, but . . .
Header image: Artist rendering of a Boom Supersonic aircraft