Innovating at Mach 2.2

Aerospace startup works on next-generation subsonic jet plane

By Jan Wondra

In a hangar at Centennial Airport, the future of business travel is being created by a small group of visionaries.

The start-up whiz and aerospace engineers behind Boom envision nothing less than the next generation of subsonic jet travel.

Founder and CEO Blake Scholl, says the goal is simple.

“Our ultimate goal is anywhere in the world in five hours for $100,” Scholl said. “We’ll start with passengers able to buy tickets at the same prices they’d pay for a lay flat bed in business class. New York to London will be about $5,000 roundtrip. We’ll keep refining the design to make trips way more affordable.”

Imagine cruising at 1,451 mph at 60,000 feet, high enough to observe the curvature of Earth out your window, as you glide to your next appointment in the fastest plane ever built.

Boom’s website describes it this way: “Imagine leaving New York in the morning, making afternoon meetings in London and being home to tuck your kids into bed.”

The plan is to develop a subsonic one-third-scale model at Boom’s headquarters at Centennial Airport as a proof of concept. The eventual goal is to build a full-scale supersonic aircraft.

Scholl, a pilot, conceived the idea two years ago.

At the moment, the replacement for the futurist Concorde—the supersonic plane retired from service in 2003—is a bit less than reality. Boom engineers have built a cramped cardboard and plywood mock cockpit and passenger cabin with seats from OfficeMax and have taped out a one-third-scale plane on the floor of the hangar.

To the naked eye, these are humble and passionate beginnings for a design that Scholl says will see a test flight likely late next year.

“Our first flight will be from Centennial and our first supersonic flight will be in southern California in the test range at Edwards Air Force base,” he said.

How is it possible to surpass the speeds of the Concorde?

Boom’s 11-person staff have a few things going for its design work that the Concorde’s 1976 creators did not. For starters, computer software. Boom’s software can run millions of computer design simulations a day, so the startup doesn’t have to spend months tweaking things in wind tunnels.

Then, there are carbon-fiber composites, an innovation in just the last 10 years. The use of a carbon-fiber composite for the plane’s body, instead of aluminum, makes it lighter and able to travel faster than mach 2. Aluminum softens at mach 2 [twice the speed of sound], because of intense friction. That is why the Concorde’s speed capped at mach 2.

It is said that planes are built around their engines.

While Scholl isn’t saying exactly what engine Boom will use, he does say this: “We’re re-using the core of an existing commercial engine with a custom fan and custom air-intake system.”

Unless you’re thinking pie-in-the-sky, think again. Behind this experienced tech startup leader are some heavy-hitters. Co-founder and Chief Engineer Joe Wilding was a standout at three aerospace start-ups, designing passenger planes from scratch. Andy Berryann, head of propulsion, worked at Pratt & Whitney building parts of the engine for a supersonic fighter jet. Other staff hails from NASA, Lockheed Martin, and a Northrop Grumman subsidiary.

With all the innovative places in the country, why did Scholl picked Denver? He sounds a common theme.

“We looked all over the country and picked Denver, and specifically Centennial, as the very best place to build this company,” he said. “Here, we have a long flight-test friendly runway, reasonable cost of living, a supportive local community. Most importantly, there’s a great quality of life, which helps us attract the best people from around the world to come make this a reality.”

Boom’s simulations show that its design is quieter and 30 percent more efficient than the Concorde was. The design has only 40 seats split into two single-seat rows, so everybody has a window and an aisle. You’ll have to wait for those lay-down beds.

To reduce weight, the seats are standard domestic first-class seats. Flight times are minimized by designing for a cruising altitude of 60,000 feet, going 2.6 times faster than other passenger planes.

This begs a few questions – is there a market for such a plane?

Scholl says an unnamed U.K.-based airline has signed a letter of intent to purchase $2 billion worth of planes when they’re ready. Do we need to go that fast? Scholl says yes.

“There are about 500 routes that fit this plane, including a five-hour trip from San Francisco to Tokyo and a six-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney,” he said.

While Scholl and his team make it look easy from the outside, he is philosophical.

“Every aspect of this project is hard but feasible,” Scholl said. “The technology exists, the funding exists and certainly the demand for faster travel exists.”

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