Why Boom’s New Supersonic Jet Is so Difficult to Build and Fly

  • Aerospace company Boom Supersonic is working on developing a new supersonic jet plane.
  • The Overture is designed to carry 88 people and cross the Atlantic in less than four hours.
  • Some experts say the production schedule and commercial viability of opening are ambitious.

Colorado aerospace company Boom Supersonic is building the world’s last faster-than-sound airliner, called the Overture.

Humans have not experienced supersonic commercial air travel since the retirement of the famous Concorde in 2003. The jet could cross the Atlantic in less than four hours at speeds of up to 1,340 mph, but was withdrawn due to high operating costs and a high-profile accident.

Twenty-one years later, Boom celebrated the “return to the sky of a supersonic civil aircraft” by flying its first prototype in March 2023.

The engines of Boom's XB-1 supersonic test aircraft.

Boom’s XB-1 demonstrator is the first prototype in Overture’s development. The engines will be different, however.

Supersonic boom

The XB-1 “baby boom” – created to test supersonic flight technologies – zoomed for 12 minutes at speeds reaching 273 mph and altitudes of up to 7,120 feet.

The smaller plane’s performance is only a fraction of what Boom’s $200 million plane is expected to fly. The company expects regulatory approvals for passenger flights on the Mach-1.7 jet by 2029 and has already booked 130 orders from carriers, including American Airlines, Japan Airlines and United Airlines.

That timeline raises eyebrows among some aviation experts, given the tricky commercial market for such a service.

“We recognize that this timeline is ambitious, but we challenge ourselves and our suppliers, who share our vision of a sustainable, supersonic future, to achieve ambitious goals,” Boom told BI, noting that he would “actively evaluate” his schedule as a program. Go ahead.

Overture has a long list of challenges to overcome

Michael Bragg, a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Illinois, told Business Insider that high costs and restrictions on ground flights due to sonic booms could hinder the production and certification of Overture

He estimated that Boom’s plane would probably cost less to operate than the Concorde, but would still have difficulty finding people willing to pay the high ticket price. Concorde seats cost about $12,000 round trip in the 1970s, according to Simple Flying.


Air France and British Airways operated Concorde airliners.


“I’m surprised Boom is moving into the commercial airline market,” Bragg told BI. “Ten or 15 years ago there was more emphasis on business jets because it’s less cost sensitive. There may be a bigger market in the commercial sector – there would be if Boom could cut costs.”

There’s also the sonic boom challenge, Bragg said. U.S. law currently prohibits supersonic flight over land due to noise, he explained, meaning Mach-speed planes can only fly over water up to that this be modified.

Bragg said a supersonic plane would be much more efficient if it could be used on cross-country flights rather than just transoceanic flights.

“If you’re not able to achieve that, then it’s going to be a lot harder to achieve financially,” Bragg said.

Boom told Business Insider in an emailed statement that the company has identified “more than 600 profitable, mostly transoceanic routes” that Overture could take, noting that the jet’s speed will allow for more lucrative flights in a day compared to subsonic aircraft.

Boom Supersonic's opening track.

Boom told Business Insider that he saw market appeal for the Overture as a business jet for sports teams.

Supersonic boom

Boom also said that “Overture will only break the sound barrier over water,” and the company is developing noise attenuation technologies to ensure the ultra-fast aircraft maintains acceptable noise levels above the earth. According to Boom, Overture will be able to fly at Mach 0.94 above the earth, which is “20% faster than subsonic flight.”

“Based on extensive passenger research, we know that passengers will pay an average premium of 55% for less time in the air,” Boom said.

Experts highlight design challenges surrounding plane’s airframe and engines

Bragg said Overture’s four rear engines and single airframe will require innovative systems to ensure safety and efficiency.

For example, he said pilots would need a computer vision system to see beyond the nose of the plane during its high angle of attack takeoffs and landings, while the design of the he delta wing would need a robust ice protection system to meet safety standards.

For visibility concerns, the XB-1 is already testing an augmented reality vision system that transmits video from nose-mounted cameras and information to the cockpit.

The XB-1's augmented reality vision system, seen in the cockpit with the pilot.

The augmented reality vision system relies on two nose-mounted cameras to feed a screen with attitude and flight indications to the cockpit.

Supersonic boom

Regarding ice, Boom said its ice-prone surfaces would undergo the rigorous testing and analysis required to “comply with the most stringent safety and certification requirements.”

He noted, however, that Overture’s delta wings are “inherently less susceptible” to the risk of loss of lift due to ice buildup on the wing compared to conventional subsonic wings.

Another challenge highlighted by Bragg is that Boom was forced to build its own engine for Overture in-house after the world’s major engine builders, like Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney, pulled out.

Boom told BI that its purpose-built, “economically sustainable” engine, called Symphony, is the “best approach” for its customers.

“Symphony is expected to deliver a 25% increase in time on wing and a significant reduction in engine maintenance costs, reducing overall aircraft operating costs for airline customers by 10%,” Boom said .

Aviation analyst Henry Hardevelt previously told BI that the task of building Overture was “quite difficult” and that adding the engine to the mix would be a “big challenge.” However, he said the home-built powertrain could prove lucrative if Boom succeeds and sells the design.

Bragg said the main overall concern, however, is the fact that the Overture is a brand new aircraft that will take a long time to prove and certify, saying there will likely be several “hiccups” along the way.

“I think everyone is excited to see a new supersonic airliner,” he said, noting that the Mach speed goal is achievable thanks to Concorde and U.S. ultra-fast military aircraft. “But Boom wants to develop, manufacture and test Overture and create a new engine in six years. That’s ambitious and seems extremely optimistic to me, but it would require very patient capital.”


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