Nearly 14 years after the last flight of the Concorde, Supersonic air travel is back in fashion.
The Virgin-backed Boom project, aims to get passengers from London to New York in 3.5 hours and they want to ensure you enjoy every minute of the ride.
This sleek jet would cruise at Mach 2.2 (or 1,451 miles per hour), 10 percent faster than the Concorde and about 2.6 times faster than other commercial jets that airlines fly today.
The proposed cabin is plush, with a 1-1 configuration each passenger would get direct aisle access, a nice view from a large window and a personal overhead bin for carry-on luggage. The seats are similar to short-haul first-class seats and more luxurious than long-haul premium economy.
The company also promises a smoother flight than any commercial planes today, avoiding turbulence by cruising as high as 60,000 feet: “Our goal is to provide a tranquil and stress-free experience from the moment you step aboard, whether you want to work, play, or relax,” Boom says on its website.
For Boom flights over 6 hours (to destinations which might take more than 15 hours of flying today), the company says airlines could install lay-flat suites.
The company believes Boom is the right size to ensure airlines fill all the seats onboard and still make money. The Boom has room for 45 passengers to stretch out, while still ensuring the economics make sense for airlines.
The cabin of the Concorde 'Speedbird' didn't leave a lot of room to stretch. It was laid out in 2-2 seat configuration with 40 passengers in the front cabin and the 60 in the rear cabin. There were 38 inches of legroom, only a little more than what you'd find on a Premium Economy cabin on a slow-jet today. The 6.5 by 4.5 inch windows offered a more limited view of the skies than the views Boom promises, and there were no roomy overhead bins. Even hand luggage was stowed in the Concorde's belly.
“Passengers often expressed surprise that the interior was so constrained,” said Jennifer Coutts Clay, who worked on the British Airways Concorde program and serves on the Concorde Advisory Committee at New York's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. “But at 60,000 feet, flying at Mach 2, passengers could see the glorious colours of the 'edge-of-space' horizon and the curvature of the Earth. It provided unforgettable experiences.”
The economics of Concorde were also bad because it was a futuristic aircraft built with the materials available decades ago. As Blake Scholl, chief executive officer and founder of Boom explained in a press release, “Concorde’s designers didn’t have the technology for affordable supersonic travel.”
New composite fuselages and high-temperature material systems, which would make Boom faster, lighter and safer, were only recently approved by the FAA commercial planes.
Considering the luxury of some of today's long-haul flights, one might ask whether we need faster planes. But Supersonic flight appeals to the imagination and airline industry designers have come up with a variety of ways to make Mach 2+ travel delightful.
Boom is optimistic about airlines loving the plane and they're already pursuing clients in the Middle East. “The Boom airliner will be a core part of the intercontinental airline fleet,” said Mike Boyd, Boyd Group International. “Travelers are hungry for faster flights and airlines will be excited for a differentiated and profitable option for their premium travelers.”
Aerospace visionary Richard Branson is excited about the Boom project enough to put his money behind it: “I have long been passionate about aerospace innovation and the development of high-speed commercial flights. As an innovator in the space, Virgin Galactic’s decision to work with Boom was an easy one," he said during the unveiling of Boom's XB-1 demonstrator.
And he's not the only one eager for faster flights. NASA is working on a QueSST 'quiet supersonic' plane which would emit a soft thump 'heartbeat' instead of a big BOOM when breaking the sound barrier. And U.S. and Australian military scientists are working on a hypersonic 'scramjet' which could hit Mach 7.5, fast enough to get from London to Sydney in two hours. But for now, that's a concept more than a reality.
Boom's focus on making supersonic travel practical and affordable both for airlines and passengers could get Boom off the ground. Boom says airlines could charge fares matching today's business class. For VIPs with a reasonably generous travel budget who have better things to do with their time than sit on a plane for 16 hours, this would be a great way to fly.
For those with more money to burn, the Boom jet will also be available to order as a bespoke, ultra-VIP private jet.