United Airlines has announced it will purchase up to 50 Boom Overture supersonic jets for commercial use by 2029, heralding the return of supersonic passenger flights nearly 20 years after the Concorde was decommissioned.
Supersonic planes halve the time it takes to fly from New York to London, from seven hours down to 3.5 hours, but such airliners were abandoned following Concorde’s final flight in 2003. Concorde had become financially unworkable after a high-profile crash in 2000, combined with excessive ticket prices, high fuel consumption, and increasingly high maintenance costs.
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If Boom’s supersonic aircraft is to succeed, it will depend on overcoming these issues that derailed Concorde. So can it be done?
Breaking the sound barrier
Supersonic flights are so called because they travel faster than the speed of sound. To do this, the aircraft must break through the sound barrier, which requires an efficient aerodynamic design to reduce drag, and considerable thrust from powerful engines to overcome the turbulence caused by shock waves.
Supersonic jet noise
Due to the noise they generate, supersonic jets aren’t allowed to fly over land. But these restrictions could be lifted with refined aerodynamic design. For example, research by Nasa on its X-59 QueSST programme hopes to produce optimised airframe shapes which could significantly reduce overland sonic booms to a much quieter “thud” – coming in at 75 decibels rather than the Concorde’s 105 decibel boom.