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Boom Supersonic XB-1 Take Its First Flight

Last week, the private aerospace company Boom Supersonic successfully completed the first flight of its XB-1 demonstrator aircraft, which is made of carbon fibre. Although it hasn't yet broken the sound barrier, this aircraft is significant because it paves the way for a fuel-efficient supersonic passenger airliner that Boom hopes to launch in the future.

With a conventional jet engine, carbon fibre composites, and an augmented reality heads-up display in the cockpit for its human pilot, the aircraft took to the skies from the Mojave Air & Space Port in Mojave, California, on Friday. The historic Bell X-1—the Jetsons-looking aircraft in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947—made its first supersonic flight just down the road, above Rogers Dry Lake.

The 19-meter demonstrator met its test objectives, achieving an altitude of 7,120 feet and speeds of 273 miles per hour.

“I’ve been waiting over 20 years for an environmentally friendly successor to Concorde and XB-1’s first flight is a major landmark towards my dreams being realized,” said Mike Bannister, formerly the Chief Concorde Pilot for British Airways, in a Boom press release. “When I last flew Concorde in 2003 I knew that this day would come. The first flight of the XB-1 supersonic demonstrator is a significant achievement toward making sustainable supersonic flight a reality.”

Indeed, sustainability—economic sustainability—was the problem with Concorde, a supersonic passenger aircraft that could fly from NYC to London in under three hours. According to the Museum of Flight, the costs of supersonic travel were rising well before the fatal crash in 2000 that killed 113 people. Besides that, the planes’ earsplitting sonic booms meant the aircraft could only go supersonic over the open ocean. Cities issued noise complaints about the aircraft, and today commercial air travel is entirely subsonic.

Boom is working on developing its Overture airliner to run on sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), which can be made from various sources like recycled carbon dioxide, forest residue, algae, and more. However, as reported by Gizmodo in 2021, the company has stated that the planes will be "optimized" for using SAF, but it cannot guarantee that they will be exclusively run on it.

Overture is currently just a concept; Boom advertises that it is expected to carry 64 to 80 passengers at speeds of Mach 1.7. In 2021, United Airlines agreed to purchase 15 supersonic aircraft from Boom with options to purchase dozens more. The Washington Post reported that Boom is looking to debut the Overture jet in 2029.

In 2024, two supersonic demonstrators will take to the skies. The Boom XB-1 is one of them, and NASA's X-59 (the Quesst mission) is the other. While the Boom demonstrator is designed to fly with a sonic boom, the Quesst mission aims to achieve sonic boom-less flight, significantly reducing noise pollution to a "sonic thump." The NASA plane has a more unconventional design, unlike the fairly ordinary-looking Boom plane, and its mission is expected to continue until 2027.

The Federal Aviation Administration does not allow civil aircraft to travel at speeds exceeding Mach 1 over land. That will have to change if the Boom team wants its aircraft to reach Mach 1.7 and achieve significantly shorter cross-country flights.



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