Boom Supersonic Team Draws from Pool of Aviation Enthusiasts

Denver's Boom Technology is designing a proof-of-concept aircraft it hopes will lead to production of a $200 million, 55-seat, Mach 2.2 airliner/business jet. The XB-1 demonstration aircraft should fly in 2018, according to senior system design engineer Nick Shreyka. “Our mission is to bring back supersonic travel in a mainstream way that is affordable.”

Shreyka said this could be accomplished by designing an aircraft that is “75 percent more cost effective than Concorde, just by applying the last 60 years of technological advances.” Among them: using “advanced materials including carbon fiber composites to make the fuselage into a refined aerodynamic shape and modern resin systems that can handle the heat of supersonic travel better than aluminum. Also, with regard to propulsion technology, a turbofan produces more thrust than turbojets with a lot less fuel, and we don't need afterburners. This is not a science-fair project. All of this technology is flying on airliners already today. This is a problem of execution, and it is a hard problem to solve. No one is denying that it will be difficult."

Boom's staff is populated by aviation enthusiasts, according to Shreyka. “We have a world-class team. Fifty percent of us are pilots. The team has contributed to 40 new air and space vehicles across the industry," he said, citing the Boeing 787, the Icon A5, SpaceShipTwo, and the Falcon 9 rocket as examples.

Shreyka's own aircraft lineage began with his grandfather, a World War II ace who flew P-38s and P-40s. He was inspired by legendary aircraft designer Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne project and after college joined Rutan's Scaled Composites. At the same time, he was learning the aircraft building trade from the ground up. He began building a Sonex kitplane in his garage and obtained a pilot's license. While at Scaled, he worked on projects including the flying car bipod, highspeed subsonic jets, SpaceShipTwo, and Strato Launcher. He was also part of a team that helped to restore Rutan's twin-engine Boomerang. Scaled test pilot Mike Melvill became a mentor and was Shreyka's chase pilot when he began flight testing his Sonex homebuilt. Shreyka was inspired by Melvill, who became a civilian astronaut when he flew SpaceShipOne to an altitude of 62 miles in 2004. While Shreyka enjoyed his time at Scaled, he still hadn't found the “one big project” that captivated him.

That opportunity came last year when he joined Boom as its sixth employee and began working on the XB-1. “I decided this was my mission,” Shreyka said. CUrrently, Boom is focused on refining its design, growing its team, raising capital, and making sales. He described the work environment as “crazy fun.”

“Everywhere we look, people are bending over backwards to help us out. The Air Force invited our team to the T-38 depot in Texas and let us crawl all over the jets and gave us technical data. They were monumentally helpful as was the Wings Over the Rockies museum in Denver. The chief engineer, chief propulsion engineer, and array of pilots who have flown the Concorde all came from England to visit and to help, and shared Concorde's technical data. They are super excited that someone is bringing supersonic back,” he said. “The harder the problem is, the more challenging it is, and  the more people come out of the woodwork to help.” 

Production Site Selection

At the Dubai Airshow, Boom launched the manufacturing site selection process, saying it believes the Middle East could be the best place for the final assembly site. Boom founder and CEO Blake Scholl said he sees a need for “1,000 to 2,000 airplanes over the first 10 we need a site that can build 100 per year.” A formal RFP for the production site will be issued in the first quarter of next year.

Meanwhile, the company conducted successful wind-tunnel tests this year at Wichita State University and received $33 million in private funding for development.

Bolstering production plans, Boom also announced two key additions to its team: Bill James, whose prior work includes leading the wing design team for the Airbus A380 as vice president of production operations, and Lourdes Maurice, former executive director of the FAA Office of Environment and Energy, who is joining Boom’s advisory board.

Even with prohibitions on civil supersonic flight over land, about 500 routes are “economically viable,” Scholl said, with costs for passengers equivalent to those for subsonic business class. “A ticket would cost about $5,000 for transoceanic” passage between the U.S. and Europe. Scholl noted he believes flight over land, prohibited due to concerns about sonic booms, will be allowed in the future. In the airport environment, the aircraft would be quieter than conventional jet airliners, according to Scholl.

While its projected 4,500-nautical-mile range isn’t sufficient for trans-Pacific routes, even with a technical stop in Tahiti for fuel, total travel time would be half the current 15 hours between the U.S. and Australia. About 10 percent of the 500 viable routes pass through the Middle East, which is “ideally positioned as a connecting hub between Australia, Asia, and Europe," he said.