Branson Signs Deal for Supersonic Passenger Plane

Supersonic passenger jet (Credit: Boom)
Supersonic passenger jet (Credit: Boom)

Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is partnering with a start-up company called Boom on the production of a new Mach 2.2 commercial airliner. The deal will involve work by Virgin Galactic and its subsidiary, The Spaceship Company.

“Richard has long expressed interest in developing high-speed flight and building high speed flight R&D through Virgin Galactic and our manufacturing organization, The Spaceship Company,” a Virgin Group spokeswoman said. “We can confirm that The Spaceship Company will provide engineering, design and manufacturing services, flight tests and operations and that we have an option on the first 10 airframes. It is still early days and just the start of what you’ll hear about our shared ambitions and efforts.”

Branson is partnering with Blake Scholl, a pilot and former Amazon executive, who is building a prototype of the new jet, called Boom, in an aircraft hanger in Colorado. While several other companies, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin, are developing new supersonic jets Scholl said his plan is likely to beat them to market as it does not require any new technology that would need approval by regulators.

“We are talking about the first supersonic jet people can afford to fly,” Scholl, the founder and chief executive of Boom, said. “This isn’t science fiction, we are actually doing this. You will be able to fly New York to London in three-and-a-half hours for $5,000 return, [which is roughly] the same as [the cost] of business class.”

Boom has assembled an experienced team of engineers and well known financial backers. It also has options for 15 more planes.

The team behind the plane has some serious talent in its blood: the company’s 11 employees have collectively contributed to over 30 aircrafts — having worked on things like the autopilot system on the 787, fighter plane engines, and flight dynamics on Spaceship Two. Some of these guys are ex-NASA, ex-Lockheed, or ex-Boeing….

Boom is announcing today that Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has optioned ten planes, in a deal ultimately valued at about $2 billion dollars. Boom also says they’ve optioned 15 additional planes to a European carrier that it declined to name, bringing the total value of the optioned planes up to $5 billion….

Boom is funded by Y Combinator, Sam Altman, Seraph Group, Eight Partners, and other unnamed angels. Boom declined to comment on whether Virgin was providing capital as part of the deal.

  • ThomasLMatula

    This will be interesting to watch, and more practical than point-to-point suborbital.

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    Great News. Although I wish is wasn’t so expensive. But costs aside, ever since the Concorde was retired, it felt like our species took a aviation step backwards.

  • therealdmt

    Cool. I’ve basically been waiting for this my whole life. Well, maybe not the $5,000 price tag part, but it’s hopefully a first step towards widespread supersonic travel in the 21st century.

  • Aerospike

    I’m skeptic…
    A) “Boom” Seriously? That sounds like (pun intended 😉 ) the worst possible choice of a name for a supersonic plane company. Considering all the effort that is going on at NASA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, et al. to come up with clever ways to reduce/minimize the sonic boom, a plane that says “boom” in its name might have a hard time to be accepted by markets.

    B) If they are currently projecting a ticket price at the same level of a business class flight, the I am willing to bet money that the final price (if the plane is ever put into service) will end up at least almost twice as high!

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Personally, I’m not seeing the need for supersonic commercial aircraft – the internet is way faster. Some small niche of passengers will no doubt pay to spend less time travelling, but for the vast majority of passengers the cost/reward ratio is not there. What IS needed is improvements is plane costs, reduced pollution and ultimately a decrease in ticket price. The idea of spending 5-10 times more to shave off a few of travel time will not be acceptable or important to most people.

    Of course, supersonic is cool……as long as someone else is paying and if you’re not one of those affected by the noise.

  • TimAndrews868

    “Some small niche of passengers will no doubt pay to spend less time travelling, but for the vast majority of passengers the cost/reward ratio is not there.”

    Look at the size of the aircraft. Certainly it’s scaled to carry a niche of passengers, not the bulk of overseas passengers.

  • Lee

    Looks like they have at least a couple of folks who have worked on quiet supersonic concepts quite a bit.

    As for the name, people need to loosen up.

  • Aerospike

    Well I agree with you.
    All I’m saying is that I’m sure that the name isn’t helping 😉

  • Douglas Messier

    Near as I can tell from reading up on this program, Virgin’s involvement was most likely predicated on obtaining work for Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company. Looks like money will be flowing from Boom to Virgin. But, the option on the first 10 planes is a commitment Virgin would make later only if the aircraft turns out to be viable. Branson could only opt not to do it. So, it doesn’t seem like Virgin is investing much money into the program now.

    We saw a similar approach to LauncherOne and OneWeb. Virgin’s support came with an order for 39 launches and an option for 100 more. It’s an extraordinary commitment for a launch vehicle that doesn’t even exist yet, but that was the price of Virgin’s involvement.

    Virgin’s expansion into supersonic aircraft and a launch vehicle not dependent upon WK2 is evidence that space tourism is probably not sufficient to sustain Galactic and Spaceship Company. Sources indicate that given how much has been spent on WK2 & SS2, and the cost of the flights, that Virgin is not expecting to make a profit on the flights. Space tourism certainly is great marketing for the Virgin Group, and will give the “halo effect” that Branson has talked about (providing they don’t splatter Justin Bieber all over the New Mexican desert), but it’s unlikely to be a profit center. At least with SS2 and how it is designed today.

    The other interesting thing is how this fits into Branson’s schizophrenic efforts to save the planet. On the one hand, he seems genuinely alarmed about global warming and the decay of the world’s oceans. He puts time and money into trying to address these problems.

    On the other hand, his lifestyle and business empire are based on carbon and tax avoidance. He’s forever grasping for things (new airlines, supersonic planes, rubber burning spaceships, new cruise lines) that add to the very problems he’s trying to solve. And it can’t escape anyone’s attention that while he’s flying around the world in his private jet urging governments to take action, he’s set up his business and home in a notorious tax haven to avoid paying taxes that would help governments pay for the actions he urges them to take.

    Branson embodies why transitioning off carbon is so difficult. Carbon enables such an opulent lifestyle for those who can afford it. And it’s relatively inexpensive for those who can’t.

  • Flatley

    The NYC-London trip time isn’t impressive to me — 3 hours vs. ~7 hours really is an incremental improvement. On the Pacific side, things are much different, especially considering the extent to which China has grown since the days of the Concorde. When you can make the 15 hour flight to Beijing the same as the 7 hour flight to London, that’s progress.

    As far as this tidbit

    Some of these guys are ex-NASA, ex-Lockheed, or ex-Boeing…

    I’m really astonished that he somehow managed to find aerospace engineers who had worked for three of the largest aerospace employers in the world. Truly impressive.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Doug, I like your ideas here, but I think there’s one more option you might want to consider when trying to understand Branson’s POV. Rules and restrictions are there to protect the environment from the likes of you and me over using energy resources and the atmosphere and oceans as a sink for our waste carbon. The rich are so few, that once we are restricted, their impact will be so minimal there’ll be no need for them to change their ways. In other words the solution to the tragedy of the commons is to make it into a preserve for the rich and powerful.

    Also want to throw this your way. Branson loves aviation, and seems to love and look at space in a 1970’s sci-fi sort of way. And he’s getting old. You don’t suppose he could be draining his fortune along the lines of what Warren Buffet says he’s doing, but his version of bettering the world is to fund or participate in outlandish aviation/aerospace stunts that he sees as development cycles?

  • Douglas Messier

    Lead. By. Example.

    I mean, the oceans are endangered and temperatures and the seas are rising and Armageddon looms for humanity. But, now let me tell you about my new cruise ship line?

    I don’t think he’s draining his fortune too much as long as he can continue to convince the likes of Arab investors and New Mexico taxpayers to pony up enormous amounts of money to fund his projects. That’s what he’s really good at.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    My money is on Branson doing just that. Thinking that selling the next big thing is a solution. I also think that once the commons of carbon dumping is taken away, he and those like him will view the atmosphere and oceans as an infinite sink for their carbon.

    Oh geezh, he’s only 65. I thought he was 10 years older. Okay yeah, he’s still got time. I assumed by his looks he was in his 70’s and had to see the end coming. Nevermind.

  • ThomasLMatula

    At the price listed they will probably do good as an executive transport for the rich and famous.

  • windbourne

    Actually, I like the name.
    It is quite appropriate for supersonic.
    I have not seen a supersonic since I was a kid, but, I will never forget the last time when skiing at park city and a supersonic appeared overhead. My dad said to listen while the aircraft made no noise. Not until it was about 3/4 of the valley. Then boom.

  • duheagle

    Boom’s ticket price target is business class, not the “steerage” seats on a 777. If they can get anywhere near that, a lot of people who already pay such rates would likely be inclined to pay even a premium to business class to cut their trip time in half or better. The longer the route, the more persuasive this value proposition is likely to be. I think their targeted economics are fine. What I doubt is their ability to build a mini-Concorde that sips fuel abstemiously enough to manage a non-stop L.A.-to-Sydney hop without a lot more fuel tankage than can be inferred from their pretty renderings.