Commercial

Supersonic Avionics to Fly on ‘Baby Boom’ in 2017

By Woodrow Bellamy III | November 15, 2016


[Avionics Magazine 11-15-2016] On Tuesday, pilot, former Amazon executive and current Boom CEO Blake Scholl unveiled the XB-1 Supersonic Demonstrator, a subscale prototype of Boom’s supersonic passenger airliner aircraft dubbed the “Baby Boom.” Ahead of the unveiling, Avionics Magazine caught up with Boom’s chief engineer Joe Wilding to learn what type of avionics technology will be necessary to support their future plans for supersonic passenger air travel.  
 
 
A concept drawing of the 'Baby Boom' XB-1 demonstrator aircraft. Photo: Boom.
 
Wilding describes Boom as a “Y combinator startup,” founded two years ago with a goal of developing a supersonic aircraft operated under the economics of existing business class air travel. The Boom team features pilots, engineers and executives with experience at the likes of Gulfstream, NASA, Pratt & Whitney and NASA among other aviation industry giants. Unveiling a one-third scale technology demonstrator, Boom is developing the full-sized XB-1 Supersonic Demonstrator at Centennial Airport in Denver, Colorado. 

 
“Learning from the Concorde, Boom combined advanced aerodynamics, efficient engine technology and new composite materials to power a safe and affordable supersonic airliner … We have assembled the core team to make this idea a reality,” Wilding told Avionics Magazine, referring to the Concorde, the 92-seater aircraft that was retired in 2003. He believes all of the technologies necessary to support supersonic passenger travel are developed, certified and widely available. 
 
According to GE Aviation, supersonic speeds exceed the speed of sound at cruising altitudes, which is approximately 660 mph. Aircraft like the Concorde were capable of flying at twice the speed of sound while, today, a typical subsonic commercial flight at cruising altitudes flies in the 500-600 mph range. Supersonic jets produce aircraft noise affecting communities around airports primarily from the engines and the aerodynamics of the aircraft itself as it flies through the air.
 
 
A computer rendering of the 'Baby Boom' demonstrator on top, and the full scale Boom airliner below. Photo: Boom.
 
Boom has completed the design of the demonstrator and has started the build process, with plans to have it ready for flight by the end of 2017. Focusing specifically on avionics, Wilding says the requirements are “surprisingly similar between a subsonic and a supersonic jet.”
 
“A slightly updated air data computer is all that is required to allow an existing subsonic avionics solution to support supersonic flight. The biggest challenge for the avionics actually stems from the landing phase of flight. We plan to continue the work that has been done with synthetic vision to aid the pilots during landing, eliminating the need for a drooped nose,” said Wilding. 
 
The XB-1 aircraft will continue the current commercial industry trend toward an integrated and connected flight deck, allowing the pilots to manage the complex aircraft systems of a supersonic airliner. Large Primary Flight Displays (PFDs) and Multifunctional Display Systems (MFDs) will be integrated to a centralized Flight Management Computer (FMC) to allow for optimized route planning. 
 
Other planned design features for the XB-1 demonstrator include a length of 68 feet with a 17-foot wingspan, and a maximum takeoff weight of 13,500 pounds. The plan is for XB-1 to be powered by three General Electric J85-21, non-afterburning, proprietary variable-geometry intake, and exhaust engines. Cruising speed will be Mach 2.2, or 1,451 mph with a range of 1,000 nautical miles. 
 
 
A computer rendering of the proposed cabin concept for the Boom supersonic airliner. Photo: Boom.
 
The XB-1 Supersonic Demonstrator will fly with hardware from General Electric engines, Honeywell avionics, Tencate carbon fiber, and composite structures fabricated by Blue Force. During a recent media tour of their facility in Phoenix, Arizona, Honeywell unveiled some of the supersonic aircraft displays and boom alerting software technology the company is researching in collaboration with NASA.
 
On the actual Boom passenger airliner, the company describes the complete design with a length of 170 feet and a 60-foot wingspan. The planned long-range cruise speed is Mach 2.2 with a maximum design route of 9,000 nautical miles, or 4,500 nautical miles unrefueled. 
 
Wilding says Boom has already seen interest in their project within the aviation industry ranging from investors, major component suppliers and air travelers. The Boyd Group performed a study of the company’s proposed design and determined that it will fit well in the international airline system once it is certified. They estimated a potential market size of 1,300 aircraft over 10 years. The airlines with primary interest in Boom’s product currently offer intercontinental business-class service. Boom’s supersonic aircraft would initially supplement that existing service and one day aim to replace it, according to Wilding.
 
“Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has optioned 10 planes in a deal ultimately valued at about $2 billion dollars. In addition, we have optioned 15 additional planes to a European carrier, bringing the total value of the optioned planes up to $5 billion,” said Wilding.  
 

The first flight of the XB-1 is planned for late 2017. Subsonic flight testing is planned for airspace east of Denver. Supersonic flight testing is planned to occur near Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California, in partnership with Virgin Galactic’s The Spaceship Company. 

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