Supersonic passenger jet firm raises $100 million, aims for 2019 test flights

By Eric Berger

Founded in 2014, Colorado-based Boom Supersonic says it has been making steady technical development toward the return of supersonic civilian travel. Now it has some considerable resources, as well. On Friday, the company announced that it has raised $100 million in Series B financing, bringing its total funding to more than $141 million.

“This new funding allows us to advance work on Overture, the world’s first economically viable supersonic airliner,” said Blake Scholl, founder and CEO of Boom Supersonic, in a news release.

Boom said it now has a workforce of 100 people and expects to double that this year. Moreover, the company has begun assembling a one-third scale prototype of its planned commercial airliner. This XB-1 vehicle could take flight later this year, with Chief Test Pilot Bill “Doc” Shoemaker at its controls. Boom intends for the prototype to validate its concepts for efficient aerodynamics, advanced composite materials, and an efficient propulsion system.

Current commercial airliners travel at an average cruising speed of about 900km/hour, or about 75 percent the speed of sound. By contrast, Boom envisions its Overture airliner traveling at Mach 2.2, which is about 10 percent faster than the Concorde traveled. The company says a flight from New York to London would take about 3 hours and 15 minutes, and Sydney to Los Angeles would take 6 hours and 45 minutes.

One of the key innovations Boom hopes to demonstrate is reaching a high rate of speed without injecting additional fuel into the jet pipe after the turbine, a process known as afterburning. This increases thrust but substantially decreases fuel efficiency. The Concorde used afterburning during take off and acceleration; Boom hopes to ditch afterburning with better aerodynamics, materials, and propulsion.

Mid-2020s

The additional funding keeps Boom Supersonic on track with the development of the full-size Overture airliner, the company said. Its planes could be ready for commercial service in the mid-2020s, and Boom said Virgin Group and Japan Airlines have preordered a combined 30 airplanes.

Initially, the company said roundtrip flights would cost about $5,000. Now, on its website, it says, "Final ticket prices will be set by airlines, but we are designing the aircraft so that airlines can operate profitably while charging the same fares as today's business class. Our ultimate vision is to reduce operating costs to make supersonic flight even more affordable and accessible."

The envisioned 55-seat Overture aircraft has a similar appearance to the Concorde from the outside, with a sleek nose and delta-wing shape. The key question is whether the company can design and develop the Overture vehicle for a reasonable amount of money, and then, whether commercial airliners can fly it profitably. It is not clear how much it will ultimately cost to bring the Overture vehicle into service or how close the new round of funding gets Boom to this goal (we have reached out to the company). Concorde development costs were about $7 billion in present-day dollars. Boeing and Airbus spent an estimated $2.5 billion to $6 billion to bring some of their larger commercial jets to market.

Civilian supersonic service has a checkered record. The Soviet Tupolev supersonic aircraft flew just a few dozen commercial flights back in 1977, and the Concorde, flown by British Airways and Air France beginning in 1976, retired in 2003 after a fatal accident three years earlier that compounded economic problems.

The significance of Friday's announcement is that it suggests that several key investors believe Boom Supersonic has a plausible technology roadmap, as well as a credible business case. The funding round was led by Emerson Collective and includes Y Combinator Continuity, Caffeinated Capital, and SV Angel. Individual investors include Sam Altman, Paul Graham, Ron Conway, Michael Marks, and Greg McAdoo.

Listing image by Boom Supersonic