US startup Boom Supersonic has conducted the first test flight of a supersonic passenger airplane Overture.

Its development began in 2016. This is the first supersonic passenger airplane that will replace the long-unflying Concorde.

Despite all the ambition, the startup may face a number of serious problems. However, they do not frighten the airlines, which are already placing pre-orders.

Supersonic airplanes fly much faster than conventional airplanes

The main advantage of the Overture will be its speed. The airplane will have a maximum speed of Mach 1.7 (2083 km/h). This is slightly less than the Concorde, but much more than conventional passenger airplanes.

At Mach 1.7, a flight from New York to London would take 3 hours and 30 minutes. That’s twice as fast as a conventional airplane.

A flight from San Francisco to Tokyo across the Pacific Ocean will take 6 hours. A Boeing 777 covers the same route in 11 hours.

But the short trip has the other side of the coin. The Overture will have 65 seats, of which 30 are first class seats and 15 are reserved for business class.

Thus, Overture is not physically capable of accommodating a large number of passengers like other supersonic airplanes. By comparison, the largest conventional passenger airplane, the Airbus A380, has a seating capacity of 853 passengers.

Flying the Overture will probably cost more than a regular airplane. This is due to the small capacity and high consumption of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

Supersonic flights will be subject to restrictions

Supersonic flights over populated land areas are currently banned in the US and many other countries. This means that Overture will not be able to fly at maximum speed in the USA.

Overture will only be able to go supersonic over water. But even in this mode, flights between New York and London or Seattle and Tokyo will be twice as fast.

The second problem is related to environmentally friendly SAF fuel: now it is in very great shortage.

SAF is an aviation fuel that is produced without the use of oil or gas. Instead, residual materials of organic origin can be used, for example from used cooking oil and fats.

In 2022, Lufthansa used about 13,000 tons of SAF. That’s 0.2% of the fuel required and 5% of the world’s SAF reserves.

There are also big questions surrounding ticket pricing. Boom Supersonic estimates that a single ticket for a route from New York to London and back would cost $5,000. The same ticket on Concorde today would cost $20k and it was the only profitable route.

Given the shortage of fuel and the high cost of the airplane, it is unclear how long airlines will have to recoup their investment.

The airplane will cost $8 billion to produce

Boom Supersonic has already raised more than $700 million, but the total cost of developing Overture will reach $8 billion, and possibly higher.

Regardless, the company is already building a Superfactory in North Carolina where the airplanes will be manufactured. Construction is ahead of schedule, so the plant will be ready this summer.

In parallel with the development of the airplane and the construction of the factory, Boom Supersonic is negotiating with other companies for cooperation.

Spanish company Aernnova will develop wings for the Overture. They will be shaped for both supersonic and subsonic flight modes. They will also be thinner than the wings of conventional airplanes, which will make it more efficient to fly at high speeds.

Italian aerospace giant Leonardo will design and manufacture the structural elements of the fuselage and the wing caisson.

As already mentioned, Boom Supersonic will develop its own jet engines. This decision was made in late 2022 after Rolls-Royce, Pratt & Whitney and General Electric refused to develop supersonic engines because the costs were too high.

Air carriers seem to believe in Overture’s success. United Airlines has ordered 15 airplanes, with American Airlines ordering another 20. In addition, Virgin Atlantic, Japan Airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines and 2 other unknown customers have options to order 171 airplanes.

Supersonic passenger flights could become a reality

20 years ago, the Concorde made its last flight. At the time, it seemed that supersonic flights would never return for a number of reasons, including expensive tickets, high fuel consumption, small capacity and unreliable engines.

But Boom Supersonic is about to completely change this industry. Yes, it will not be able to fix all the shortcomings of the Concorde, but if there are fewer of them, it will be a victory.

The Concorde was designed 60 years ago. Since then, the aviation industry has moved a long way forward. Therefore, the dream of supersonic passenger air travel is approaching reality, we just have to wait a little longer.