U.S. Air Force Expands Supersonic Study With Boom
COLORADO SPRINGS—Supersonic aircraft developer Boom has been awarded a three-year U.S. Air Force contract to expand studies of its Mach 1.7 Overture aircraft beyond that of an executive transport to include surveillance, reconnaissance, special forces deployment and other military transport roles.
The Denver-based company says the latest award, valued at up to $60 million, was contracted through the Air Force’s AFWERX innovation arm, and through the service’s AFVentures division, which is designed to accelerate commercial technologies. Known as the Strategic Funding Increase (Stratfi), the contract follows the award of a smaller SBIR Phase 2 contract in September 2020 aimed principally at studies of a potential supersonic Air Force One presidential and executive transport.
“It’s an expansion of the use cases,” Boom CEO Blake Scholl says. “Under Stratfi we’ve added some additional users including new intelligence and surveillance reconnaissance applications as well as Special Operations Forces and Pacific Air Forces [PACAF]. There are a wider set of stakeholders and we’re starting to see together that a high-speed transport class aircraft can do to do a lot of different things for the Air Force.”
Studies will include versions of Overture with sensor payloads for the notional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission, but will not include offensive weapons. “The one thing we won’t do is weaponize the aircraft—that’s a clear ‘no-fly zone’ as we call it,” Scholl says. “It’s for a bunch of different reasons, including safety for the passengers. You never want someone to see an Overture on radar and think it’s a threat. It’s not our business or our intention.”
Aside from ISR applications, Boom’s studies will focus on the broader potential operational benefits of long-range, high-speed cruise capability. Scholl says the team is asking questions such as: “How quickly can we get a SEAL team anywhere on the planet if there’s a crisis? If we’ve got wounded soldiers, how quickly can we evacuate them to where they can get world-class medical care? If there’s a crisis, how quickly can we evacuate people out or get support forces or medical supplies in?”
Boom says the Stratfi contract will also specifically accelerate research and development on the Overture which, in its commercial guise, is being designed to carry 65–88 passengers on ranges of up to 4,250 nm. Supported by the results of a subscale demonstrator, the XB-1, the transport version is due to roll out in prototype form in 2025 and is set to enter commercial service around the end of the decade.
The Stratfi contract “helps us accelerate wind tunnel testing, and helps accelerate propulsion system definition,” Scholl says. “It also helps us with aspects of the XB-1 flight test, so it goes against a number of initiatives that accelerate everything we’re doing.” The XB-1 is believed to be undergoing final engine integration work at Boom’s Centennial, Colorado, site prior to starting its flight test campaign in California later this year.
Although declining to comment on reports late in December that it is in final negotiations to develop an Overture production facility at Piedmont Triad International Airport near Greensboro, North Carolina, Scholl says Boom remains “on or slightly ahead of schedule with everything on the Overture program.”
Based on deriving design tools and manufacturing lessons from XB-1, he says: “What we’re seeing now is that approach is really bearing fruit. The schedule that we laid out for the Overture program, including both technical milestones as well as the operational manufacturing milestones—we’ve hit every single one from the plan laid out two years ago within two weeks of when it was originally scheduled. In fact, we hit some key milestones several weeks ahead of schedule last year.”
News of the talks with Piedmont match the timetable previously outlined by Boom, which in 2020 said it planned to whittle down a list of 15 potential assembly sites to around five finalists by the start of 2021.
It also has been examining options for an inland final assembly facility and a coastal site for supersonic flight testing and delivery, which would also fit the North Carolina location scenario. Production is expected to commence shortly after ground-breaking in 2023. Flight tests are due to get underway in 2026.