The construction of a new supersonic airliner

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Like a lot of young guys Blake Scholl had an interest in things that flew, and it went very fast. A charm was Concorde and supersonic flight.

Now he is at the Dubai Airshow in trying to woo investors and Middle East airlines to support its ambition to once again break the sound barrier, commercially viable.

It’s an idea that a couple of years ago may have been dismissed with a friendly “good luck”, but that it is time to take seriously the shape.

Mr. Scholl, the founder and chief executive of Denver’s Supersonic Boom, has already 76 pre-orders from the airlines and says that he is talking with another 20 operators.

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The former Amazon executive and founder of mobile payment company Kima Labs (sold to Groupon) is convinced that new technologies, composite materials, quieter, more efficient engines, makes a return of supersonic flight possible.

‘Quiet’ replacement for the Concorde?
The construction of a successor to Concorde

He says: “I remember thinking, back in 2007, when the iPhone came out, that the world has always been faster and better. That was not so true with flight – flights today take the time as they did in 1950.

“When I started researching this, nothing more was going on in the supersonic market. There was a bit of sci-fi stuff. I thought that was probably impossible.

“But after a search on the field, I started to think – is possible, but difficult. If you have the courage and you get the right people together you can do it, I thought.”

Boom

Not to say that the Gulf airlines, which he is, or hopes, to speak. But the likes of Emirates and Qatar Airways are clear objectives.

Both carriers are continually pushing the luxury end of the market, spending tens of millions of dollars upgrading the first class cabins and with new innovations to attract wealthy travelers.

Airlines are always looking to differentiate themselves, he says. Thus, the addition of supersonic aircraft for the fleet mix would make sense for many carriers. “And geographically, the Middle East has a sense. It is ideally located as a connecting hub for the rest of the world.”

Mr. Scholl’s business plan estimates a market for 1,000 to 2,000 Boom aircraft in the next 10 years, with the first aircraft entering service in 2023.

Boom

The first test flight of one-third-scale demonstrator is expected in 2018. It will be a fundamental step for the design and approval process and help bring in more investment.

Fresh funds will also be needed because Mr. Scholl announced that the search of an aircraft to the site of production is in progress. A decision on the location is expected in the first half of next year.

Mr. Scholl suggestions of a manufacturing site in the Gulf – where the aerospace structures and manufacturing, is expanding rapidly on the back of the airline’s growth – cannot be ruled out.

The theme of this week’s Dubai Airshow is the Future of Travel, and as he points out, “is home to some of the most forward-thinking visionaries of transport.”

Also on Monday, Mr. Scholl has announced two new appointments to high profile – Bill James, who has guided the wing design on the Airbus A380 superjumbo jet, and Dr. Lourdes Maurice, former director of energy and environment at the Federal Aviation Authority.

The former will be responsible for production and finance, while the next will help you negotiate the regulatory minefield. You join a team that already includes people from Boeing, NASA, Lockheed Martin and the rocket business, SpaceX.

Boom

Mr. Scholl said that the economics of his business plan are comparable to the subsonic business class costs, airlines need to be able to make a profit charging about $ 5,000 (£3,800) a ticket.

The aircraft has 55 seats (the Concorde had 100) and the trip of about 4500 km. That would still mean a stop for refueling on long-haul flights. But even then, the time saved may make it useful for travellers, he claims. “There are about 500 locations worldwide that are economically viable for supersonic.”

The key to the project, of course, is the engine.

“There have been huge advances. This plane will be more peaceful and quiet – like aircraft around Heathrow Airport today. The politicians will not be a possibility for the new planes that make more noise,” says Mr Scholl.

A decision to adapt the existing engine technology, or to produce something new, something not yet done. The interviews and the research continues, and he hopes to make an announcement at the beginning of the next year.

What about the much-maligned sonic boom that has given Concorde a bad name, at least with those who live under the flight path?

Tm Robinson, of the Royal Aeronautical Society, believes Boom supersonic ambitions are “certainly feasible.”

The technology has certainly improved from the Concorde, he says: “The reverse side of the coin is that environmental standards and noise regulations have gotten stiffer; it’s going to be a challenge.

“The business case does not rest on overland flights, which is good. But, on the other hand, not being able to fly [supersonically] the overland is one of the things that he did for Concorde.”

Boom

Mr Scholl says: “the Sonic boom have been set up as a sort of bogeyman. There is a lot of mythology on the breakage of windows. But it turns out that it is really difficult to break a window with a sonic boom – you have to fly over 100 feet (30 m).”

The boom will be “significantly quieter” than Concorde, promises. The Boom in smaller planes, reducing the air disturbance. There are also things that can be done with the shape of an aeroplane will be of great help to you, Mr Scholl says.

Still, the obstacles are high. Supersonic flight is banned in the UNITED states, even if Mr. Scholl is confident that this will soon change, because the laws established by the Federal Aviation Administration are currently subject to renegotiation.

The project has a long way to go. But at least Mr. Scholl seems to have confirmed his initial thoughts of building a supersonic plane to a new age, it will be difficult, but it certainly looks possible.