No one wants to fly economy class. While the spectacle and delight of crossing the Atlantic in less than a day should still be mind-blowingly cool, for the time-constrained or the overly monied it’s just not enough. Sure, there might be a premium first-class lounge on that flight, but the flight itself is 8 hours long, and that’s too much time to spend at even the coolest bar. Fortunately for the world’s bored intercontinental millionaires, there’s Virgin’s billionaire founder Richard Branson, who is partnering up with aerospace company Boom to create a jet that can cross the Atlantic from New York to London in three and a half hours.
“Boom” is aptly named. When a plane reaches and surpasses the speed of sound, it forms a shockwave in a cone shape around it; in front of the cone is silence, and when the cone reaches a listener’s ears, it creates a very loud sound. The first great supersonic airliner, the Concorde, faced objections to the loud sound that came with its Mach 2 flight, and ultimately it only flew routes across the ocean, where there were no people to disturb. The Concorde last flew in 2003, and there’s been no replacement for it since. To combat the boom, NASA’s restarted X-Plane program is working on silent supersonic designs. But that’s an experimental program, with benefits years away at best.
Boom wants to start now. The Denver-based company’s goal is a 40-seat plane, flying at Mach 2.2, mostly at an altitude of 60,000 feet (comparable to the Concorde), with a round-trip ticket from London to New York costing $5,000, and the flight lasting only 204 minutes. Tokyo to San Francisco? Just $6,500, and less than 5 hours. Los Angeles to Sydney? $7,000, for a six-hour flight.
Those are impressive numbers, and Virgin will get dibs on the first 10 planes the company makes for production. That’s still a ways off. Boom doesn’t have a prototype yet. If it works, they’ll bring back superfast commercial flight for the select few that can afford tickets. Either way, the result will be imperceptible for the overwhelming majority of air travelers.