Boom Supersonic, the Colorado -based startup working on creating a supersonic passenger jet to continue and dramatically advance the legacy of the original Concorde, has signed on Rolls-Royce to build the propulsion system for its Overture commercial aircraft. Boom is getting very close to actually beginning to fly its XB-1, a subscale demonstrator aircraft that will test and prove out many of the technologies that will be used to bring Overture to life.
This isn’t the first time Boom and Rolls-Royce have worked together: The two companies have had a number of different collaborations on aspects of their development process to date, Boom notes. Rolls-Royce has a history of developing engines for civil aircraft applications dating all the way back to World War II and is the second-largest maker of aircraft engines in the world.
Boom’s relative newcomer status should benefit greatly from the long tradition Rolls-Royce has in creating aircraft propulsion systems — and it doesn’t hurt that Rolls-Royce had a hand in creating the Olympus 593 turbojet that powered the original Concorde.
The Overture aims to be the world’s fastest passenger aircraft, with flights taking half the time they do on conventional commercial jets (New York to London in just three-and-a-half hours, for instance). The company aims to provide essentially dedicated business class service to a frequent business traveler clientele, and to do so sometime in the next five to 10 years.
The XB-1 demonstrator jet has a set reveal date of October 7 this year, which is the first time we’ll get a first-hand look at a fully functional aircraft that Boom really intends to fly.
Commercial aviation isn’t typically the place to look if you’re after carbon-light initiatives. Jet fuel isn’t generally very green, and airplanes burn a lot of it when traversing the skies. But supersonic flight startup Boom wants to change the perception of commercial aviation as an emissions-costly prospect, starting with their testing development program for the XB-1 supersonic demonstration aircraft that will eventually lead to the development of its Overture passenger aircraft.
Boom claims this will make it the first commercial flight OEM to achieve this level of sustainability, especially from the very beginning of its aircraft flight testing and certification process. And while XB-1 and eventually Overture aren’t electric or hybrid aircraft, the way the company hopes to achieve this milestone is through a combination of using sustainable jet fuel and carbon offsets (effectively the process of buying carbon “credits” by funding projects that net reduce greenhouse gases) to reduce its overall carbon footprints to zero.
The fuel that Boom is using comes from partner Prometheus Fuel, which is a company that uses electricity from renewable power sources, like solar and wind, to turn CO2 scrubbed from the air into jet fuel. Already, Boom has tested this fuel in use during some of its initial ground tests, and its findings indicate that it should be able to use it effectively through both the remainder of ground testing, as well as into its flight program.
While there is some debate about the overall validity and efficacy of carbon offsets, provided that money from these programs is funneled into the proper initiatives, they do seem to result in more ecological harm than not. And any attempt to offset the economic impact of a flight program like Boom’s, especially if it’s carried through to flying production aircraft, should be better for the environment than had no attempt been made whatsoever. Which, by the way, is the case for most new aircraft development programs.
Already, Boom is in the process of building the XB-1, which it will then flight test in partnership with Flight Research during a program in the Mojave Desert at the Mojave Air and Space Port. The goal is to begin testing this summer, and eventually use the information gathered from the XB-1 program (which will be able to hold a pilot but no passengers) to build out the final Overture aircraft that will offer commercial passenger supersonic flight services. Boom has secured agreements with a number of airlines for pre-orders for Overture, including JAL and Virgin.
Autonomous aircraft transportation seems like a sure thing at this point – in particular for cargo, where safety concerns around potential harm to people isn’t as much of an issue. One company pursuing this goal is Elroy Air, which has developed a hybrid-electric vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft that can carry over 300 lbs of cargo for up to 300 miles – a good distance for replacing some medium haul ground freight routes.
Now, Elroy Air is demonstrating some new aspects of their system, including the ability to pick up cargo containers on its own without any loading processes needing to be handled by humans. That’s a mighty interesting feature, and one that could potentially make possible a lot of efficiency gains in a cargo operation, like round-the-clock operation and relatively low-lift urgent deliveries of large volumes of emergency supplies.
Elroy is betting that its approach, which includes the autonomous cargo loading and loading features, as well as a hybrid fuel system that offers efficiency but also doesn’t require any major charging infrastructure to operate, could help it commercialize its services ahead of other types of designs. It’s aiming to serve a range of customers across commercial, humanitarian and military industries, and completed its first test flight earlier this year.