Supersonic travel may indeed become a reality (again) if Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin group and start-up Boom Supersonic have their way.
Boom this week showed off its XB-1 Supersonic Demonstrator, or Baby Boom, a subscale prototype of what is to be the Boom supersonic passenger airliner which Boom says will be “the world’s first independently developed supersonic jet and the fastest civil aircraft ever made.” The two-seat prototype aircraft is expected to make its first flight in late 2017 with a commercial passenger plane perhaps coming in few years, the company said.
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"60 years after the dawn of the jet age, we're still flying at 1960s speeds," said Blake Scholl, chief executive officer and founder of Boom in a statement.
“The XB-1 is powered by three General Electric J85-21 turbojet engines, fed by two variable geometry supersonic intakes. Each engine has a variable geometry nozzle system. The XB-1 uses a compact turbojet engine, while the production airliner uses a medium-bypass turbofan engine for additional quiet and efficiency,” Boom stated on its web site. “The XB-1 fuel system stores 7,000 lb. of jet fuel in 11 separate tanks, including fuselage and wing tanks. Jet pumps provide a reliable stream of fuel to each of three engines. Like Concorde, an aft trim tank is holds fuel during supersonic flight, shifting the aircraft center of gravity aft as the center of lift shifts rearward.”
The Boom airliner is expected to fly at 1,451mph (2,335 km/h) and hold 40-50 travelers.
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For its part, Virgin’s Spaceship Company, which build its SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, has been selected will bring manufacturing, development and test capability that have been developed for Virgin Galactic’s space program to the Boom aircraft.
“Supersonic travel for both cargo and humans will result in many exciting and efficient benefits. There are tremendous hurdles ahead and equally there are lots of terrific people and companies all working together to finally make supersonic travel a reality,” Branson wrote of the development.
One of the biggest hurdles is that supersonic travel is banned over the US.
“This ban should be reversed and replaced with a commonsense noise standard, set to promote efficient, affordable supersonic flight while disallowing nuisance. In the meantime, the Boom jet will fly routes that are primarily overwater—such as New York to London or San Francisco to Tokyo, flying subsonically when over land. Over 500 routes benefit immediately and significantly from supersonic,” Boom stated.
“The Boom jet is designed to maximize efficiency while producing a much quieter “boom” than Concorde. There are many common misconceptions about sonic boom. Other commonplace noises, such as thunder, are louder than sonic booms. Sonic booms do not break windows or cause hearing damage (unless the aircraft is flying supersonically at an extremely low altitude, which commercial aircraft do not.),” Boom stated.
Boom is not the only supersonic aircraft development going in. Earlier this year Airbus and Aerion detailed the results of their work – the AS2, a 170-ft. long needle-shaped, three-engine jet capable of hitting speeds over 1,200MPH – about Mach 1.5. The idea is to test fly the jet by 2021 -- which can handle about 12 passengers -- and have it in service by 2023.
In February NASA said it wanted to put a supersonic passenger jet back in the sky too. The “low-boom” aircraft known as Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) will be built by a team led by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics which will get $20 million to develop baseline aircraft requirements and a preliminary aircraft design.
QueSST is just one of many so called experimental aircraft or X-Planes that NASA would like to build under an agency initiative called New Aviation Horizons. New Horizons is a 10-year plan to develop all manner of new aviation technology including faster, quieter, less polluting, more fuel-efficient aircraft.
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