It’s a few years late, but a prototype supersonic airplane has taken flight


Enlarge / XB-1 takes off on its inaugural flight.

Boom Supersonic

A prototype jet independently developed by Boom Supersonic made its first flight on Friday, the company said.

The XB-1 vehicle flew from Mojave Air & Space Port in California, reaching an altitude of 7,120 feet (2.2 km) and a maximum speed of 273 mph (439 kph). In a news release, Boom Supersonic said the initial test flight of the XB-1 aircraft met all of its objectives.

The experience we have gained in reaching this milestone will be invaluable to Boom’s revival of supersonic travel,” said Bill “Doc” Shoemaker, Chief Test Pilot for Boom Supersonic.

The XB-1 aircraft is a demonstrator intended to test materials and the aerodynamics of a larger commercial supersonic aircraft the company is calling Overture.

Boom is one of a handful of companies attempting to revive supersonic commercial air travel since the Concorde’s final flight in 2003. Its planes are intended to carry between 64 and 80 passengers at about twice the speed of conventional commercial jets in service today. Boom says it has received 130 orders and pre-orders from American Airlines, United Airlines, and Japan Airlines for the Overture vehicle, which it plans to deliver later this decade.

A lot of milestones to go

Boom Supersonic was founded a decade ago, in 2014. It rolled out the XB-1 prototype for the first time in October 2020. At the time, the company said it planned to begin a flight test campaign during the third quarter of 2021. It is not clear why Boom missed that timeline by two and a half years.

The company plans to fly the XB-1 to learn the lessons of supersonic flight with a lower-cost vehicle and incorporate these findings into Overture’s final design. There is only so much technology that can be tested on the ground, and in wind tunnels, so the company needs to fly now to mature its design.

After Friday’s flight, the company said the aircraft’s development team will continue to expand the flight envelope to confirm its performance and handling qualities through and beyond Mach 1.

One key element of the Overture aircraft that the XB-1 prototype is not testing is the engines. The XB-1 is powered by three GE J85-15 engines, a turbojet engine that has been in service for several decades. Boom Supersonic is developing a new engine, a medium-bypass turbofan engine Symphony, for the Overture aircraft.

Previously, the company showcased a one-third scale design model of Symphony, but it has not released information about developmental tests of the hardware. The additively manufactured engine is advertised as having 35,000 pounds of thrust.



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