Most Influential Projects 2021

41 Overture

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For taking supersonic flight to new heights

It's been nearly two decades since the Concorde made its final flight, but it still stands as an icon of aviation innovation: the first aircraft to deliver supersonic commercial flights. And while sky-high ticket prices, fuel-guzzling engines and a deadly crash combined to doom the U.K.-French project, the appeal of ultrafast air travel won't go away. Now Boom Supersonic is using US$270 million in funding to re-imagine the concept for a more environmentally minded jet set.

The company is promising its still-in-the-works Overture aircraft will fly at speeds of Mach 1.7—twice the speed of today's fastest airliners. But Boom isn't just out to build the fastest commercial airliner. The company also wants it to be the most eco-friendly. "Our vision is to make the world more accessible. It's fundamental that we take great care of it, too," said Boom CEO Blake Scholl.

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The team is developing Overture to run on 100 percent sustainable fuel and to minimize noise—a big complaint against the Concorde. Boom is also working with Rolls-Royce to explore ways to embed sustainability in Overture's propulsion systems.

The first demonstration flight is scheduled for late this year or early next year, with production tentatively slated for 2023. Pending regulatory approval, commercial flights could begin as early as 2029—but like the Concorde, Overture won't be cheap, with Boom suggesting tickets will cost US$5,000 per seat.

The high prices, ambitious project specs and lengthy timelines haven't slowed customer interest in the project. Japan Airlines has been a strategic partner since 2017, and the U.S. Air Force signed on in 2020. And in June, United Airlines inked a deal to buy 15 of the super-fast, carbon-neutral planes, with the option to purchase 35 more—bringing a supersonic rebirth that much closer to reality.

"Aerospace takes a long time to innovate. And so if you don't start setting these opportunities out now, you will have missed them," Michael Leskinen, United's head of corporate development, told The New York Times.

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That kind of high-level backing could quell the naysayers, of which there are plenty—and which Scholl seems ready to take on. "Overture doubters are equating all of supersonics with Concorde—and assuming anything fast will fail for the same reasons," he tweeted in June. "It's as if we had stopped building computers after the Univac—and then claiming we can't have smartphones because mainframes were big and expensive."