By Burhan Turra
Yes, supersonic passenger flights were a thing, back in the 1960s. Planes such as the Concorde, Tupolev TU-144 and the Boeing 2707 were focused on the reaching the boundaries of speed, and the idea of flying between London to New York in under 3 hours was very promising. These planes achieved technological feats which would have even left today’s world in awe. You can imagine the astonishment of many, back then! Unfortunately, these planes didn’t last long, with the Boeing 2707 being abandoned halfway through development, and the Concorde and TU-144 having been in service for less than 30 years combined. That was it for the supersonic passenger jet program, save for NASA’s flight tests in 1999.
In 2014, a new startup company was born, and it was not just any company. Founded by trio Blake Scholl, Josh Krall and Joe Wilding, it was called BOOM, and its mission was to bring back the supersonic era. In the space of around 4-5 years, it has designed the supersonic airliner of tomorrow, the Overture. The Overture is a 55-seat supersonic jet designed to be like its predecessors, with delta wings, medium-bypass turbofan engines and a barrier-breaking speed of Mach 2.2, the fastest ever speed for an airliner. BOOM also aims to make supersonic travel more affordable, as it was much more expensive and considered a luxury back in the 1960s.
Even though BOOM has been recently recognized for their efforts as well as being invested by Japan Airlines, they are not the only ones trying to design a supersonic passenger jet. Aerion and Lockheed Martin have formed a partnership to design the Aerion AS2, designed to be the first ever supersonic business jet. Unlike the Overture, it won’t follow the traditional supersonic passenger jet design and will look more like a normal regional jet. What’s more? The Aerion AS2 has already found suitable engines, the General Electric Affinity. These are the first supersonic engines to be developed with fuel efficiency, emission standards and technologies capable to meet today’s standards. This is yet another example of how supersonic flights are making their return to the commercial/ business aviation market. Still, the Overture and the Aerion AS2 will only have their first flights in late 2019 and in 2023 respectively.
It will be interesting to see how both the programs develop as they go forward and if anyone else starts designing a supersonic passenger jet.
So, what does this mean for us civilians? While the idea of reaching our destinations in a faster and more comfortable way sounds good to many, I have mixed feelings about it. Yes, I would not mind paying to get to my destination in a much quicker fashion, but how expensive would the plane be to maintain? If there will be so many new advancements in these planes then how will these planes be able to fly so many trips with these maintenance costs? Remember, some of the technology on these planes will be brand new when they debut, so it will be hard to figure out. Also, there’s the noise. The AS2 and the Overture will need to be quiet in flight as to not disrupt civilian life below, otherwise, it could increase enormous amounts of noise pollution.
Nevertheless, it definitely seems that supersonic passenger flight is on its way back. It will be interesting to see how both the programs develop as they go forward and if anyone else starts designing a supersonic passenger jet. As of now, it is tough to say if any other changes will occur in this segment of the aviation market, but we’ll just have to wait and see!