Japan Airlines made a $10 million downpayment on supersonic aircraft

Andrew Munro 8 December 2017 NEWS

Boom 2

Coming in 2020, and arriving before you know it.

Japan Airlines (JAL) has a dream of flying from Tokyo to New York in 3 or 4 hours. Or Sydney to London to Los Angeles in 6-7 hours. Or possibly Darwin to Bali in a few minutes.

The airline has joined the Virgin Group as investors in Boom Supersonic in the hopes of making that dream come true, with a $10 million investment and by providing a range of consulting services, oriented around the onboard passenger experience.

It's not a pipe dream either. The "Baby Boom" one-third sized prototype XB-1 aircraft will be taking off in 2018 with the first commercial flights tentatively penciled in for 2020. The XB-1 will hit speeds of 2335 kilometres per hour, or Mach 2, making it a full 2.6 times faster than any other commercial aircraft.

It's already taken over 75 orders for the aircraft from at least 5 different airlines.

The design features don't leave a lot of room for passengers, but the XB-1 will be a business class-only ride, with long haul flights pegged to go for a surprisingly reasonable $3,500.

And even though the fate of the Concorde is still fresh in most people's minds, Boom is confident it can overcome its predecessor's fatal design flaws, although there's probably not much to be done about the remaining visual similarities.

It highlights three design differences that set it apart from the Concorde.

  • A tapering fuselage. The passenger cabin gets thinner towards the rear of the plane where the wings are thickest. This makes it let sensitive to air disturbances, like strong cross-winds, at supersonic speeds.
  • A chine. This is an extension of the thing that stretches all the way up to the nose, similar to what you'll see on fighter jets but very out of place on commercial aircraft. It doesn't do much at lower speeds, but generates a lot of lift at supersonic speeds. This helps offset the natural tendency for the centre-of-lift to shift backwards at higher speeds.
  • Refined delta wing design. This refers to the backwards-swept wing design and trailing edge. This significantly reduces drag and helps quiet sonic booms.

A space age airplane

It also gets the benefit of manufacturing techniques that weren't around for the original Concorde. Most importantly, it gets the benefits of carbon composite materials, shaped with the help of precisely 3D printed molds.

The original Concorde was made of good old aluminium instead. That might be fine for most aircraft, but aluminum is very vulnerable to heat expansion, which is a natural side-effect of supersonic speeds.

According to Boom Supersonic, the nose and leading edges of the wings reach temperatures of about 150 to degrees Celsius in flight (or about 170 on a hot day). Carbon composites can handle this with minimal expansion, while the Concorde was actually about 40cm longer in flight than on the ground. This naturally called for much more complex engineering, and a lot more room for things to go wrong.

1280px-Concorde_g-boab_heathrow

The original and best

"JAL’s passionate, visionary team offers decades of practical knowledge and wisdom on everything from the passenger experience to technical operations. We’re thrilled to be working with JAL to develop a reliable, easily-maintained aircraft that will provide revolutionary speed to passengers. Our goal is to develop an airliner that will be a great addition to any international airline’s fleet," said Blake Scholl, founder and CEO of Boom Supersonic.


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Pictures: Boom Supersonic, Wikimedia Commons

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