AN ICON JUST GOT LARGER
▶ ▶ Boom is working to bring supersonic flight to the masses … ish ▶ ▶ “This is not science fiction”
If you’re ever stuck on a plane pining for the glory days of air travel, hop on Youtube and search for “the Concorde.” Among the results are a bunch of firsthand accounts of people sipping Champagne and scarfing down caviar on one of the bygone supersonic jets as they travel at 1,300 miles an hour. Try to appreciate the joy on their faces, or at least remember they paid as much as $20,000 round trip, when you’re crammed into a middle seat with nothing but an overpriced dollop of hummus and a few crackers.
Or perhaps find some solace in this: A Denver startup called Boom Technology plans to bring supersonic passenger travel back and to bring it to the masses … ish. While the finished product is years away, on March 22, Boom unveiled its design for a 40-seat plane that can fly 1,451 mph (Mach 2.2). At that speed, a New York-to-london flight would take about 3 hours and 24 minutes. Blake Scholl, Boom’s founder and chief executive officer, says round-trip tickets will cost $5,000. “The idea is for a plane that goes faster than any other passenger plane built before, but for the same price as business class,” he says.
Scholl, 35, isn’t the obvious choice to run a fledgling, high-risk aerospace company. He’s a boyish coder and amateur pilot who spent five years at Amazon.com, working on things such as automated ad systems, before starting a mobile shopping app maker called Kima Labs. Groupon bought Kima in 2012, leaving him with money in his pocket and a yearning to build something more meaningful than coupon software.
Two years ago, Scholl began brainstorming. He’d been a pilot for almost a decade and was convinced air travel could be improved, so he bought aerospace textbooks and spoke with a ton of experts. “The people we talked to looked over our plan and concluded it is technically feasible,” he says. “This is not science fiction.”
Buoyed by the positive reception, Scholl ditched Silicon Valley for Denver and started Boom in his basement in September 2014. He even managed to persuade people with aerospace expertise to join him.
In January, Boom moved out of the basement and into a hangar at Centennial Airport, a few miles from the Denver Broncos training facility. There, rich people and hobbyists land their planes and park them amid dozens of rows of beige hangars. (Boom’s hangar used to be John Denver’s.) The smell of jet fuel wafts through the air while tumbleweeds roll down a runway surrounded by mountains. The place has become home to a handful of startups, including companies working on military projects, electric planes, and vertical-liftoff business jets, because of its proximity to wide- open prairies
Scholl, right, and Wilding say
they’ll have a one-third-scale plane ready by the
end of next year
and open-minded airport officials.
Today, Boom has 11 people, six of them pilots, working in the hangar’s upstairs offices. Unlike Scholl, these folks have serious industry bona fides. Joe Wilding, the co-founder and chief engineer, was a standout at three aerospace startups, designing passenger planes from scratch. Andy Berryann, the head of propulsion, used to work at Pratt & Whitney, building parts of the engine for a supersonic fighter jet. Other employees came from NASA, Lockheed Martin, and a Northrop Grumman subsidiary, Scaled Composites.
The Boom engineers say new materials and software made a Concorde replacement viable only in the last 10 years. Their plane will be built using a carbon-fiber composite instead of aluminum, making it lighter and able to travel faster. (Because of the heat generated by intense friction, aluminum softens at speeds higher than Mach 2.) Boom’s software can also run millions of computer simulations a day on its designs, so the startup doesn’t have to spend months tweaking things in wind tunnels.
According to the simulations, Boom’s design is quieter and 30 percent more efficient than the Concorde was. Its 40 seats will be split into two single-seat rows, so everybody has a window and an aisle. To reduce weight, the seats are of the standard domestic first-class variety, so no laydown beds. To cut flight time, Boom’s plane will cruise at 60,000 feet, where passengers will be able to see the curvature of the earth, while going 2.6 times faster than other passenger planes. Scholl says about 500 routes fit the craft’s market, including a five-hour trip from San Francisco to Tokyo and a six-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney.
Inside the hangar, it quickly
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