In the latter days of the 20th century, the Concorde represented the ultimate in high-speed transatlantic travel. Capable of traveling at twice the speed of sound, this supersonic jet made it possible to get from New York to Paris in less time than it now takes to get from New York to Denver.
Though a tragic 2000 accident helped push the Concorde out of service by 2003, a new purchase agreement between United and aerospace company Boom Supersonic suggests a return to ultra-fast travel between the US and Europe could be in the offing before the end of the decade.
Recently, United announced it’d reached an agreement to purchase 15 of Boom Supersonic’s “Overture” aircraft in the coming years, with United having the option to purchase an additional 35 Overtures for its fleet. The goal is to start test flying the aircraft by 2026, in the hopes of carrying commercial passengers before the end of the decade.
The goal is to start test flying the aircraft by 2026, in the hopes of carrying commercial passengers before the end of the decade.
According to a United press release, the Overture can fly at speeds of up to Mach 1.7, making it slightly slower than the Concorde’s top speed, but still significantly faster than today’s subsonic commercial jets. That could allow the airline to “connect more than 500 destinations in nearly half the time,” opening up possibilities like Newark to London in three and a half hours, or San Francisco to Tokyo in six.
In addition to speeding up travel, the hope is that Boom Supersonic flights can be more sustainable as well. As of now, Overture would become the first large commercial aircraft that runs entirely on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which would in turn make it the first net-zero carbon commercial aircraft. Boom’s XB-1 demonstrator aircraft is currently in the midst of a net-zero carbon flight test that could act as a proof of concept as their Overture program ramps up.
The idea that it’s possible to maximize sustainability without sacrificing performance seems to be a major reason why United entered into this purchase agreement.
It’s likely close to eight years before customers can book your supersonic flight.
“United continues on its trajectory to build a more innovative, sustainable airline and today’s advancements in technology are making it more viable for that to include supersonic planes,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in the company’s press release. “Our mission has always been about connecting people and now working with Boom, we’ll be able to do that on an even greater scale.”
The purchase agreement is contingent on the aircraft meeting United’s safety, sustainability, and operating requirements. In order to ensure the aircraft’s able to hit its net-zero carbon goals, both companies will also work together “to accelerate production of greater supplies of SAF.”
It’ll probably be another seven and a half years before you can book your supersonic flight, but that’s at least a little bit sooner than you may have thought before Boom Supersonic and United teamed up. And with all of the talk of air travel’s role in climate change, hopefully this can make the process of getting halfway around the world not only easier, but a little greener too.