Boom Overture Moves Out Of Theory Into Reality

The XB-1 supersonic aircraft shows efficiency gains over Concorde

Engine testing has begun on the GE J85-15 for Overture.Courtesy Boom Supersonic

While the vision of economically viable supersonic commercial flight invested in Concorde was never fully realized, the airplane still stands as an icon to those who would try again to achieve that goal. Boom Supersonic, working to make that vision a reality, announced at the Paris Air Show this week that it is ready to launch the flight test phase of its Overture XB-1 sub-scale demonstrator. The first supersonic flight is scheduled to take place in 2020.

The XB-1 is a two-seat prototype powered by GE J85-15 engines adapted for operations at Mach 2.2. The company is building the carbon composite airframe at its facility in Denver, Colorado. Boom has already tested the engine with sustainable alternative fuels, and plans to operate the Overture with low-carbon jet fuel—in order to attain a critical part of its remit to operate eventually in a carbon-neutral regime.

The forward fuselage for the XB-1 in the tooling at Denver.Courtesy Boom Supersonic

Boom has conducted three rounds of wind tunnel testing using scale models and various elements of the airframe and engines. With the milestones it has attained during its preflight testing phase, Boom has recognized significant gains in efficiency over previous aircraft, such as Concorde. One key design challenge to Concorde lay in its engine inlets: No jet engine can intake air at supersonic speeds, so engineers must create intakes that slow the air down from Mach 2.2 to Mach 0.5 or in that range. Boom reported at its press conference in Paris that it saw efficiency gains of up to 5% over Concorde’s intakes during a phase of its wind tunnel proving. Software-controlled compression ramps position shockwaves precisely, allowing for improved operations throughout the flight envelope.

Taxi tests will be conducted at Centennial Airport, near Denver, before moving the airplane to the Mojave Desert for flight test. Subsonic flight testing will commence before moving into the supersonic phase of the program.