(This article first appeared in the American Spectator: Https://spectator.org/supersonic-boom-overture-goes-presto/)
By: John C. Wohlstetter, Senior Fellow
Recently TAS published my article, Mach Miracles: The Joy of Commercial Supersonic Flight. Therein I speculated as to when such service might return. A new announcement by Boom Supersonic, as reported by CNN, may advance the date for regular supersonic service. The article noted:
Nearly two years after rolling out its prototype supersonic demonstrator . . . Boom has unveiled a major new design (1:24) for its much anticipated “Overture” airliner, which will fly at twice the speed of today's subsonic commercial jets and is expected to carry its first passengers in 2029.
CNN’s piece followed on the heels of a CBS “60 Minutes” July 10, 2022 segment (13:40), titled Supersonic, on the possible return of non-military supersonic travel. It concluded that 2035 was the earliest plausible date for a new supersonic era. The program’s focus was on two key concepts, one of which was Boom Supersonic. Entrepreneur Blake Scholl’s aim is to raise $7 billion in all-private-funding—a first for supersonic planes. His company aims to test-fly a single-seater craft this year; if successful, he’ll raise funds for a full-size plane, dubbed Overture, which would serve 600 destinations around the globe. Routes would be 4 to 5 hours flight minimum, and use 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel, a currently highly scarce commodity. Scholl’s long-term goal is—NOT a misprint—to enable air travel anywhere in the world in 4 hours at $100 per customer.
I then concluded my earlier piece with this assessment: “The dismal state of flight today augurs ill for a rapid return. Perhaps a supersonic business jet will be a stepping stone to a new Golden Age of Flight.”
The new video touts advances in the latest version: (a) contoured fuselage to reduce drag, thus increasing fuel efficiency; (b) a new delta-wing design, to improve supersonic performance and subsonic stability, thus maximizing safety and efficiency; (c) gull wings, to reduce supersonic noise (i.e., sonic boom), and minimize engine stress; (d) stabilizing tail, for balance and performance; (e) 4-engine design—the earlier XB-1 model (4:37) had 3 engines; on a 71-foot airframe one-third the length of Concorde and Overture —for efficient supersonic performance within standard temperature ranges, plus the ability to fly without afterburners (i.e., use “supercruise” to enable sustained high-speed flight, and thus minimize noise and fuel consumption); (g) Mach 1.7 top speed over water—twice today’s subsonic jets, and 20 percent faster overland subsonic speed, at Mach 0.94, than today’s jets attain; (h) zero carbon-emission “sustainable aviation fuel.”
Overture aims to carry 65-80 passengers up to 4,900 statute miles (7,900 km.), in an airframe roughly the same size as Concorde, with 700-miles longer range, and at 60,000 feet ceiling (same as Concorde, to minimize JetStream effects). This creates at least 600 potentially viable routes, given business first-class comfort. The company estimates that its round-trip fare will be 25 percent more than subsonic business class today, and 75 percent less than Concorde’s $12,000 round-trip fare in the 1990s. Overture provides, we are promised as we view a soft-lit modern interior, that “productivity meets tranquility.” Digital experiences, with customized windows, will offer fliers productivity modes for work, relaxation modes for rest and exploration modes for tracking flight progress.
A New York Post article provides added detail. The article notes that Overture will use lighter, stronger, more thermally stable carbon materials than Concorde’s aluminum alloys for much of its 21st century airframe.
Overture’s NYC - London travel time will be 3-1/2 hours versus 7 hours for today’s planes, LA - Sydney, 8 hours v. 15 hours today; Tokyo - Seattle, 4-1/2 hours v. 9 hours today. The NYC - London time is 15 minutes slower than that for Concorde, reflecting Concorde’s faster top speed (Mach 2.0 v. Mach 1.7); but the difference is minuscule, as much of the flight is not at top speed.
For the longer routes, Overture’s advantage will be greater, as Concorde would have to make one stop for the Tokyo - Seattle flight, and likely two stops for LA to Sydney, because the great circle distance (over the polar regions) shrinkage is far less than for Tokyo - Seattle, due to the southern latitude of Sydney. This Great Circle blog post shows Great Circle distance benefits to major Asian hubs; nearly all distance savings are on the order of a one percent distance reduction. This world latitude map shows latitudes for the above flight-linked cities: New York (400 N to London 520 N); Tokyo (360 N) to Seattle (480 N); LA (340 N) to Sydney (340 S).
More than 100 orders (news reports vary) are on the books—of course, contingent on delivery of the plane. CNN reports that Overture will be built by 2025, begin test flights in 2026 and serve commercial—business passengers, to be sure—in 2029.
Bottom Line. With the global economy teetering on the verge of possible economic collapse, any ambitious business plan is hostage to fortune. Supersonic flight incubates many new technologies, whose interaction cannot be assessed until actual test flights are flown, with full-size airframes. As airline orders are provisional, buyers incur minimal risk, with perhaps significant proffits if everything goes well. Versus my earlier assessment, the new Overture design offers modest cause for a less skeptical outlook.
That said, I am reminded of the classic joke about the optimist and the pessimist. The optimist exclaims, channeling Voltaire’s Candide, “This is the best of all possible worlds!” To which the pessimist, channeling O’Toole’s Commentary on Murphy’s Law, replies: “I agree.”
John Wohlstetter, a senior fellow at the Gold Institute for International Strategy is author of Sleepwalking with the Bomb (Discovery Institute Press, 2d. ed. 2014).