Remember the Concorde? Boom Technology has picked up a high-profile set of allies in its quest to revive supersonic passenger jets: British billionaire Richard Branson, his Virgin Galactic space venture and its manufacturing arm, The Spaceship Company.
The team behind Denver-based Boom has several Seattle connections. CEO and founder Blake Scholl helped pioneer Amazon’s marketing automation system. Michael Reid, Boom’s head of systems engineering, previously worked on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Boom’s team also includes veterans of Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney and other aerospace heavyweights.
If Boom goes big, the startup could find itself competing with Boeing for the high-end jetsetter market that the long-gone Concorde catered to. Boom says it could fly passengers from New York to London in 3.4 hours, at a cost of $5,000 for a round trip. In comparison, the ticket price for a Concorde flight was about $7,000 one-way at today’s prices.
The round-trip fare for San Francisco-to-Tokyo flights (4.7 hours) would be $6,500, and Los Angeles to Sydney (6 hours) would be $7,000.
All this is theoretical, however, until the planes are built. Boom says a subscale prototype is currently under construction in the company’s Denver hangar. First test flights are to begin in late 2017 at Centennial Airport near Denver, and supersonic testing will take place near Edwards Air Force Base in California, the company says.
“Near Edwards” is a good description for Mojave, Calif., where The Spaceship Company has its factory.
Branson’s Virgin Group confirmed its involvement in a statement emailed to GeekWire:
“Richard has long expressed interest in developing high speed flight and building high speed flight R&D through Virgin Galactic and our manufacturing organization, The Spaceship Company. We can confirm that The Spaceship Company will provide engineering, design and manufacturing services, flight tests and operations and that we have an option on the first ten airframes. It is still early days and just the start of what you’ll hear about our shared ambitions and efforts.”
For years, Branson has been talking about the promise of high-speed point-to-point travel, in the context of the SpaceShipTwo suborbital rocket plane. Supersonic jet service could provide a less expensive, albeit somewhat less speedy option: Boom says its plane will travel at a top speed of 1,451 mph, compared to SpaceShipTwo’s 2,500 mph.
In addition to Virgin’s 10-plane option, another 15 planes have been optioned to an unnamed European air carrier, Scholl told GeekWire. That would bring the total potential value of optioned planes to as much as $5 billion.
More than a dozen years after the last flight of the Concorde, the idea of transporting passengers at supersonic speeds is picking up steam again. Last month, NASA and a commercial team led by Lockheed Martin kicked off a $20 million project to design a “low-boom” supersonic jet. The experimental plane project is known as Quiet Supersonic Technology, or QueSST.
“Developing, building and flight testing a quiet supersonic X-plane is the next logical step in our path to enabling the industry’s decision to open supersonic travel for the flying public,” Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission, said in a news release.
Boeing has considered supersonic jet designs over the years, ranging from the SST 2707 in the 1960s to the 21st-century Icon II. None of those passenger jets ever became a reality, however. The 787 Dreamliner started out as a near-supersonic concept known as the Sonic Cruiser, but Boeing reworked the design after learning from its airline customers that they valued low operating cost over high speed.
Update for 3:07 p.m. PT March 25: Scholl confirmed earlier reports from TechCrunch and Fortune about the airplane options, and we’ve updated the story accordingly.