Supersonic flight - from a startup
March 22, 2016 4:05 AM   Subscribe

Startup aerospace company Boom is hoping to bring back civilian supersonic transport. Faster and cheaper than the Concorde at $5,000 for Mach 2.2.

Boom is a Y-Combinator startup. Founder Brian Scholl (bscholl) is answering questions in this Hacker News thread.
posted by zanni (69 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Hacker News commenters have already converted it to an electric-powered supersonic transport. We live in exciting times!
posted by thelonius at 4:23 AM on March 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


I really hope they succeed and we start to see more startups is the physical products space. Engineering is hard and I want to see more Startup unicorns in this sector. Besides it would just be really cool.
posted by 27kjmm at 4:24 AM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


Color me doubtful this ever takes off under their own power. Eleven employees, six of them pilots? The best they can say is "technically feasible"? Wouldn't be surprised if their true end goal is to sell to an established manufacturer as soon as the computers say the design will fly.
posted by clorox at 4:34 AM on March 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


I'm glad the web startup world is getting in on this, because something that NASA has been pushing real hard is, "How can we burn even more fuel without going any farther? Is there a way to burn up fuel even faster than just dumping it in a giant pit and lighting it on fire? And can we do it really loudly at the same time?"
posted by indubitable at 4:39 AM on March 22, 2016 [33 favorites]


Space elevators are technically feasible. Anyway - I certainly hope this comes to fruition.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:44 AM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Looks like a lot of experience in that team—by aerospace standards it's ridiculously lean, but when they're at the brainstorming and setting-things-up stage that's what you want. We tend to forget these days but aerospace wasn't always about bloated multinationals; in 1950 the team at Boeing that came up with the initial design for the B-52 Stratofortress did so in a conference hotel room over a weekend. It took thousands more over a few years to turn it into metal and make it fly, but that came later. I expect this company to expand rapidly given that they've got YCombinator's backing (the VC folks who invested in DropBox on the ground floor). The silent boom angle is also interesting; Lockheed sank a lot of effort into figuring out how to dampen the sonic boom for over-land flight then did nothing with it.

If they can build a 40-seater and prove it on the NY/London route (and they're going for 40% of Concorde's seating capacity, which suggests it's feasible), then get the FAA to certify it for supersonic overland flight in North America, that gets them into an insanely lucrative market; getting business folks on a flight that departs NYC at 9am, arrives SFO or LAX around 8am local time, then returns departing SFO or LAX around 6pm and landing in NYC around midnight. No jet lag, just a long work-day with about 8 hours for business between flights. That's the real pot of gold at the end of the supersonic bizjet market looks like.
posted by cstross at 4:49 AM on March 22, 2016 [33 favorites]


"How can we burn even more fuel without going any farther? Is there a way to burn up fuel even faster than just dumping it in a giant pit and lighting it on fire? And can we do it really loudly at the same time?"

The Mythbusters team are available
posted by iotic at 4:50 AM on March 22, 2016 [11 favorites]


" FAA to certify it for supersonic overland flight in North America"

My understanding is that this is ultimately what sank Concorde (even though it's presumable fine for military jets to be zapping around and sonic booming over land) - what are the chances of the FAA certifying it this time? Would it being a US startup help?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:52 AM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Wait, so if the web startup world is getting in on it, does this mean the cockpit controls get redesigned every six months, and the engine gets scrapped and rebuilt every time somebody found a new way to make Javascript turbine combustion almost tolerable?

Also, your ticket order gets dropped because of MongoDB.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:55 AM on March 22, 2016 [14 favorites]


It's worth bearing in mind that design work on Concorde began in 1958 or thereabouts and was more or less frozen by 1968.

Our yardstick for an SST is nearly two-thirds of a century old.

The Boeing 747, of similar vintage (based on Boeing studies for a C-5 competitor, then turned into an airframe in the late 1960s through about 1972) had an initial range of 5000 miles. Modern engine technology and composites have allowed them to evolve the airframe into something substantially that weighs 30% more, carries more of everything, takes off from a shorter runway at MTOW, and has 60% greater range.

In addition to these incremental changes, there are major step changes that could be applied to a Concorde-like aircraft if someone wanted to design one anew. For one thing, a new one would be significantly simpler in some respects. The droop-nose mechanism was a solution to a 1950s problem—how to see over the nose while taxi-ing. The gear to move it weighed around two and a half tons: a modern solution to the problem would involve a couple of 4K cameras, and indeed cameras are how the pilots steer an Airbus 380 super-jumbo on the ground, so this isn't anything new. Again: Concorde had a flight engineer, most whose job was to manually adjust the airliner's trim in flight by pumping fuel around the 14 fuel tanks to change the aircraft's center of gravity as it burned off fuel. Concorde's electronics racks ... if you've ever walked through a Concorde in a museum, the front of the fuselage is this claustrophobic about 12 feet long lined with racks of discrete-transistor electronics. Concorde was the first fly-by-wire civilian aircraft, but with 1960s electronics; just updating to modern off-the-shelf avionics would shave tons off its weight.

TL:DR is, I can easily see a modern design, implemented in advanced composites, being lighter than Concorde's state-of-the-art 1960s aluminium structure ... and there are huge weight savings to be made elsewhere. And these savings reduce overall systems complexity, so that the plane would be cheaper to build and cheaper to maintain than Concorde (which was more like a space shuttle than an airliner: it took roughly 24 hours of intensive hangar maintenance on the ground per hour of supersonic flight, not unlike a military aircraft).
posted by cstross at 5:02 AM on March 22, 2016 [41 favorites]


~"FAA to certify it for supersonic overland flight in North America"
~My understanding is that this is ultimately what sank Concorde (even though it's presumable fine for military jets to be zapping around and sonic booming over land)


I'm pretty sure what sank Concorde here in the US was noise, but not of the sonic-boom sort. Apparently, it was a seriously loud plane during take-off and landing.

Do MIL aircraft go supersonic over populated areas anymore? I haven't heard a sonic boom since I was a kid. I thought such activity was limited to military airspace now.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:05 AM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


GallonOfAlan: NASA are commissioning Lockheed to build a low-boom quiet supersonic test-bed. (Popsci report, alas, no trade press links via google.) This isn't new. The original ban on supersonic flight over land came in in the 1960s after some rather obnoxious USAF tests to see if the public would tolerate 1950s jets on full afterburner breaking the sound barrier at low altitude over cities, and Concorde being non-American didn't help. Modern aerodynamics should mitigate the problem enormously, along with flying at 60,000 feet (same as Concorde, much higher than a normal airliner): the goal is for something no louder than distant summer heat lightning or traffic a mile from an interstate.
posted by cstross at 5:06 AM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


If and when this company actually starts routes, I might consider a once in a lifetime expenditure to ride this. Seems like the same problem of getting up to the supersonic threshold over continental US still reigns supreme. Also taking into consideration the amount of time it would take to get up to altitude (and back down) in addition to gettting up to supersonic threshold suggests that this will still remain the perview of continent hoppers and not the local/regional transit.
posted by Hasteur at 5:11 AM on March 22, 2016


It'll never be allowed in the post-9/11 age. A hijacked airliner can be intercepted by fighters before it's used as a missile. A hijacked supersonic airliner would be effectively a poor man's ICBM.
posted by acb at 5:13 AM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


...The original ban on supersonic flight over land came in in the 1960s after some rather obnoxious USAF tests to see if the public would tolerate 1950s jets on full afterburner breaking the sound barrier at low altitude over cities...

Heh. I was a kid in the 60's, and I can vividly recall two instances where our little house on the east side of Indy was hit by a low-level sonic boom. It's hard to describe the effect, but, man, was it scary. It's like...nothingnothingnothingnothingnothBANGingnothingnothingnothingnothingnoth
posted by Thorzdad at 5:15 AM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Not only has materials and electronics technology advanced significantly since the Concorde (and 747), so has design. CAD software didn't even exist when the Boeing developed the 747. The design required 75,000 technical drawings .... all hand-made.

There's an aerospace engineer in the Hacker News thread arguing the infeasibility of the project due to the pace of design: "You need to run numerous (supersonic!) wind tunnel tests of a design (each test spanning months, with year long lead time before testing, and months of analysis and design between tests)." But the Bloomberg article says, "Boom's software can also run millions of computer simulations a day on its designs, so the startup doesn't have to spend months tweaking things in wind tunnels."

That's, what, eight orders of magnitude improvement in design iteration? Incredible.
posted by zanni at 5:20 AM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


I grew up in Cornwall, where you'd hear Concorde's sonic boom a couple of times a day as it headed out over the Atlantic. I can remember that it was argued at the time that you couldn't possibly hear the boom inland, as the plane only went supersonic a hundred or so miles out to sea.

I heard it every day growing up - a very distinctive double boom, muffled like a far-off explosion. You could certainly feel it through the fabric of our 1970s council house. Eventually it became one of those reassuring background sounds that tell you you're home.
posted by pipeski at 5:28 AM on March 22, 2016 [14 favorites]


A computer model that can be run "millions" of times a day does not have anywhere near the fidelity that you would get with wind tunnel testing. They are two very different things.
posted by indubitable at 5:29 AM on March 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


We can't have the 1% patricians riding about in common plebian aircraft, can we?
posted by jim in austin at 5:39 AM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Just this morning I drove past a sign for "SST Towing" and thought they might be exaggerating the speed of their services
posted by timdiggerm at 5:39 AM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Like indubitable says, if they're running millions of simulations a day, they aren't accurately modeling the fluid dynamics. It may be good enough to narrow down the design concept, but it won't give you sufficently representative data on what the actual airplane will experience. For that you will need some combination of more complex computer models, wind tunnel models, and full-scale flight testing.

And there is nothing in that article on the avionics, which is in the same league as the engines in terms of the cost of the plane.
posted by cardboard at 5:42 AM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


My understanding is that this is ultimately what sank Concorde (even though it's presumable fine for military jets to be zapping around and sonic booming over land) - what are the chances of the FAA certifying it this time?

Sank Concorde in the US. Sank the Boeing 2707 SST completely.

Would it being a US startup help?

Didn't help when Boeing was proposing one -- the regulations killed it.

If *AND ONLY IF* they can get the sonic boom under control -- and there are some studies saying you can lose most of it and direct the rest away or scatter it enough to make it unnoticeable -- AND get the fuel burn low enough, this works.

The original ban on supersonic flight over land came in in the 1960s after some rather obnoxious USAF tests to see if the public would tolerate 1950s jets on full afterburner breaking the sound barrier at low altitude over cities, and Concorde being non-American didn't help.

Not low level at all. The booms were limited to 1.5 psf at the surface (at least for the first few weeks) rising to 2.0psf at the end. The Concorde, at Mach 2.0 flying at 52,000 feet created one that was almost 2 bar at the surface. M2@FL520 was a very normal flight regime for the Concord. The Shuttle, at Mach 1.5 @ 60,000 feet, created one that was 1.25 bar.

The XB-70 Valkyrie was putting noticeable booms on the ground at 70,000 feet.

The problem has to be fixed before SST is going to be feasible. There is some evidence that fixing it, though, is indeed possible.

Other factors.

Fuel burn. As a passenger aircraft, the Concord was a pretty decent bomber, and it mostly carried fuel. Even with that, it was barely able to make it across the Atlantic. Afterburner based SSTs will not be picked up by airlines, because the fuel costs are outrageous.

Speed. 1.2 Mach isn't going to interest anyone. Concorde got this right -- Mach 2 cruise is more than twice as fast as the typical airliner, which nowadays cruise at Mach 0.85. Cutting an hour off of ORD-LHR is basically noise -- the jet stream will cut more than that off if it's where you're flying. Cutting 4 hours off that? That's a different story completely.

Capacity. The major airlines won't accept 100 pax international. If they're hauling overseas or transcons, they want to move at least 200, preferably more. Given the same technology level, a plane carrying 200 is always more efficient than two planes carrying 100.

Turnaround time. On short hops, turnaround time is everything. If it'll take an hour to turn the plane, that's an hour it's not flying. On internationals, where legal factors make it tough to turn a plane in less that 3 hours, it's not as much a factor, which is why the big planes tend to fly international -- hard to turn fast, but you *can't* because of customs and security, so. (Ever seen the purser with the big bag at the door when you land overseas? And how they hand that bag over to someone the moment the door opens? Customs documents for the cargo and crew. You do that in the customs hall.)

So, you ask, why all the small planes running around in commercial service. A few factors.

1) Customers like jets. They don't like turboprops, even though for small airports and short hops, turboprops are better in every way. When UA/AA went all jet at O'hare, delays jumped, because regional jets need long runways like the big jets, but turboprops need a couple of thousand feet. So, the RJs had to wait in line.

2) Union breaking. RJs aren't flown by the company named on the side of the plane. They're hired to fly routes, and as a different company, they don't operate under the union contract the mainline does. To say this caused friction is an understatement.

3) Frequency. There was this iron-clad belief that what the business traveller wanted was frequency, and you could get that by flying 10 small planes, rather than 5 larger ones. Turns out that the reason they really wanted frequency is that they needed to get to somewhere by X, and if there was a delay and lots of flights, they could standby on an "earlier" one. What was causing the delays? Well, flying 10 small jets instead of 5 larger jets sure wasn't helping! Airlines are now backing down some on this, typically by limiting midday flights.

Southwest famously used to tout frequency, but it was an effect of their route structure -- they flew short hops. So, you'd think there were 12 STL-MDW flights, but there were actually 4 of those, and 8 flights from somewhere to somewhere else that stopped at STL and MDW along the way. As WN moved to longer flight, the frequency dropped, and so did their advertising it. Because it turns out that frequency was often useless to people, because they'd be flying something like DAL-STL-MDW-DTW-ISP and there would be 10 seats actually available on the STL-MDW leg and 2 on the MDW-DTW leg, because of the number of people flying DAL-MDW and MDW-ISP.

ISP, by the way, is Long Island MacArthur Airport. It's 60 miles from Manhattan. But it was cheaper. They still fly there, but Southwest has flown to LGA since 2009. Smart people started realizing that saving $100 by flying WN wasn't saving you a damn thing when you ended up renting a car to actually get to New York, and smarter people went "wait, that's another two hours of my time. $100? Not worth it." I've said it before, I'll say it until I die -- always factor *your time* into the equation, and price it correctly. This includes on vacations -- if you're always flying to the outlying airports, you're spending more time getting there and less time actually on vacation. This has a cost. Price it. Then pay the extra to fly to an airport that can actually see New York City, if you're going to New York City. Going to outer Long Island? ISP is a great airport for that.

Of course, the decision point could be "I'd rather lose 6 hours in transit time over not going at all because the faster path costs too much." That's a fair decision. But trust me -- i've been traveling a long time, I can prove I've been on over 1000 flights and I have a feeling it's closer to 1500. Time is not free. Price it correctly. Don't just assume the cheapest way is the right way.

Not pricing their time correctly is the biggest mistake Americans constantly make. "Oh, I'll do that for you for free?" You've just priced your time at $0/hr. Bad. Very Bad. Even worse, you've just driven the market to assume time is cheaper. You've just hurt everyone else. Very Bad.
posted by eriko at 6:00 AM on March 22, 2016 [35 favorites]


It'll never be allowed in the post-9/11 age. A hijacked airliner can be intercepted by fighters before it's used as a missile. A hijacked supersonic airliner would be effectively a poor man's ICBM.

Oh, for fucks sake!

No. No it isn't. ICBMs WIPE OUT ENTIRE CITIES IN ONE SINGLE FLASH OF LIGHT. ICBMs can kill or injure in the millions -- literally "more than one million" -- of people within two seconds of impact. Indeed, the weapons they carry have shrunk in energy output because, well, you just need to destroy the target, you don't need to fling the pieces very far. Of course, they've swapped "huge" for "lots of smaller" and now one ICBM can wreck multiple cities in one shot. So, yeah, they're still good for millions of dead *per ICBM*.

NO airplane kills even a tenth of that many people in two seconds. None. Period, end of statement. And even supersonic aircraft don't go much above Mach 1 near the ground. If they do, they literally break because things overheat and melt. They scream around at Mach 2 up in the thin air of FL400, not the thick soup we live in down here.

Stop exaggerating threats. It only harms the world.
posted by eriko at 6:08 AM on March 22, 2016 [49 favorites]


yup, Qmax is a thing.
posted by indubitable at 6:14 AM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


That is an audaciously bad name for a transportation startup.

boom.aero? Are they serious?
posted by lumensimus at 6:20 AM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


I don't want to make any sweeping judgments on this announcement, but in terms of aero startups there are a few points of comparison. Terrafugia is one of the few still active. They are attempting to build and certify a two-seat, light sport aircraft. They were founded in 2006, and even with the relaxed rules around the light sport category they're not planning on delivering planes until 2025. According to Crunchbase they've had about $5.5 million in funding plus an "undisclosed amount" of seed.

Eclipse Aviation, now defunct, actually built a few planes. They were chasing the "very light jet" market that was heating up right before the recession. I think they had a few hundred million in funding, built some planes, and shuttered in 2008. They were able to go from startup to production and collapse in around ten years.

Scale that up to something going supersonic (with all the interesting technical challenges that brings up) and needs to be certified to carry paying customers, and you can imagine for yourself how much funding they're going to require to pull this off.

I think that a common problem that all small aero companies like that have faced and continue to face is that the industry needs change much more quickly than certified product can get to market. Around 2006-ish, everyone wanted VLJs - Eclipse had all the buzz, Piper and Honda (yes, makers of cars and lawnmowers) were unveiling their own products. Then the economy collapsed and all of those projects were shitcanned; Hondajet finally was certified this past December, and they've built a grand total of five so far. Light sport planes got popular shortly after that, Cessna and Pipistrel and Flight Design had products in development... and then the light sport market fizzled after people realized they could buy a used 152 for like a tenth the cost of one of these new "cheap" planes.

Point being, whether there's a market for supersonic transport right now doesn't mean that there's going to be one in twenty years when this plane is finally certified. It's a huge investment of time and money that may not eventually pay off, and there's a reason the giant aerospace companies are the ones that tend to do this kind of development.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:22 AM on March 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


(even though it's presumable fine for military jets to be zapping around and sonic booming over land)

But they don't just fly around willy-nilly, at least now that the Blackbird is retired. Outside of an actual interception they're limited to specific areas out in the middle of nowhere.

- what are the chances of the FAA certifying it this time?

I'd guess those are the same as the chances they can reduce the boom to whatever their limits defining "tolerable" are.

It still seems silly given the other realities about air travel. Even using their example -- leave NY at 6 AM. Which means getting to JFK at 3 AM. Clear customs, get wherever you're going in greater London, have *late* afternoon and dinner meetings in London while you're as fuzzy as someone who got up at 3AM is, and then get to Heathrow and wait for 3 hours and board your plane at like 10pm and get back to JFK at like 9:30 PM and then spend an hour in customs and an hour getting back home and yay you've spent like 16 hours traveling instead of 19 wooooooo go you.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:39 AM on March 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


The people who will be using this service are not waiting in security/customs checkpoints. They already have express boarding privileges and drivers who will take them to and from the airport, if not the gate itself.
posted by Think_Long at 6:46 AM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


This won't happen. Supersonic flight over CONUS is basically prohibited for anyone, including military flights, unless there's a good reason for it. http://www.aerospaceweb.org/question/planes/q0060b.shtml

The answer everyone is looking for to get people from NYC to LAX in less than a day involves low earth orbit, and then we're still talking about firing rockets off.

Not gonna happen.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 7:41 AM on March 22, 2016


TL:DR is, I can easily see a modern design, implemented in advanced composites, being lighter than Concorde's state-of-the-art 1960s aluminium structure ... and there are huge weight savings to be made elsewhere.

Current composites won't work for the skin -- they soften badly with relatively low heating. The F-22 is 38% Ti alloy for that reason. For internal structures? Sure. Also relevant -- the F-22 is designed for a lifetime of 8000 flying hours. An airliner hasn't even gotten halfway to a D-check in 8000 flying hours, and they gets those about every 6-7 years. I suspect an SST is going to be Al alloy -- worked fine for the Concorde, though Ti alloy would be lighter, it'll be more expensive.

A workable SST is going to be spending far more time at >1 Mach than any military aircraft with the notable exception of the SR-71. Most military aircraft only dash at >1 Mach, even bombers like the B-1 and Backfire don't spend a lot of time there because of fuel burn. A workable SST transport is going to spend most of its flying hours at Mach 2.0.

The electronics issue is a win -- a lot less mass. Also a win, but mostly on cost grounds, is not needing a flight engineer.

The droop nose was for more than taxiing -- you needed the nose down on the approach to be able to see the runway. Modern airframes, however, can get Mach 2.0 without an enormously long nose. They need the droop nose because they have to fly at high pitch angles at low speeds because of the double delta wing design. You can bet a rational SST designed now is not going to be a large delta, unless it is a delta with canards, and since then you're getting lift out of your control surfaces, rather than losing it pitching the nose up to fly at slow speeds, you land much closer to horizontal and thus you wouldn't need to droop even a long nose like Concordes.

Basically, though, you're exactly right. Many of the design decisions of Concorde were based on technology and aeronautical knowledge of the late 1960s. A modern design would be much better -- the answer to handling high and low speeds changed from the Trapezoidal Wing (utterly crap low speed performance, see the F-104) to Delta wing (and moderately crap low speed performance with high AoA landings) to swing wings (good performance, heavy wing hinge and mechanical nightmare) to modern designs (canard cranked deltas, double trapezoid, cranked arrow) that, with flaps and slats, land at reasonable speed and are low drag at Mach speeds.
posted by eriko at 8:01 AM on March 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


For the other extreme, I think those giant airships that some people are trying to make happen will be more interesting in the long run.
posted by AndrewInDC at 8:03 AM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


Well, this is terrific news for one-percenters and people who don't care about carbon emissions!
posted by entropicamericana at 8:06 AM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


The answer everyone is looking for to get people from NYC to LAX in less than a day involves low earth orbit, and then we're still talking about firing rockets off.

Well, there's always this.
posted by newpotato at 8:12 AM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Every six months I see this same story with a new company name. Anyone remember Aerion? EADS/Airbus' SST patents last year? The Zero Emission Hyper Sonic Transport from EADS? All the cash Lockheed sank into the SAI QSST?
I'll believe it when they have a working plane and FAA approval.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:13 AM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


If you want to see the Boeing SST mockup, it's being restored at the Museum of Flight's Restoration Center in Everett, WA. It's worth a visit to see all the planes they're restoring, including a de Havilland Comet that you go inside.
posted by ShooBoo at 8:31 AM on March 22, 2016


The answer everyone is looking for to get people from NYC to LAX in less than a day involves low earth orbit, and then we're still talking about firing rockets off.

Not gonna happen.


Isn't that sort of trip the ultimate goal of Branson's Virgin Galactic? Or, is that strictly sightseeing?
posted by Thorzdad at 8:33 AM on March 22, 2016


The people who will be using this service are not waiting in security/customs checkpoints. They already have express boarding privileges and drivers who will take them to and from the airport, if not the gate itself.

Either way the market for this thing is so small that it's difficult to see how it would ever be economical. How many people are there in NYC, and not even places near NYC like Armonk or the CT suburbs, who want to go to London, and not even places near London, and who have their preclearance crap worked out, and who have $5K to drop on a ticket? Hell, would it even be sensible-in-some-way if you wanted to just do business with someone on the eastern edge of London and were going to have to go through the city traffic twice?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:34 AM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I agree that the market is very limited, but I wouldn't underestimate how often executives are able to convince themselves that they need to fly somewhere on their corporation's travel account.
posted by Think_Long at 8:46 AM on March 22, 2016


How many people are there in NYC, and not even places near NYC like Armonk or the CT suburbs, who want to go to London, and not even places near London, and who have their preclearance crap worked out, and who have $5K to drop on a ticket?

Enough to support an all business-class flight from NYC to London City Airport - bypassing the trip from Heathrow to the financial district. It's British Airways flights 001 and 002. Bringing this full circle, 001 and 002 used to be Concorde flight numbers. Passengers on this flight departing JFK wait to board in the "Concorde lounge."
posted by penguinicity at 8:57 AM on March 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Wouldn't be surprised if their true end goal is to sell to an established manufacturer as soon as the computers say the design will fly.

That is the goal of most startups. At the very least the founders are likely to get to spend the rest of their careers in aerospace R&D, which would otherwise be hard to do without retraining. They might even pay their investors back!
posted by miyabo at 9:28 AM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Good to see more carbon neutral solutions to pressing economic problems.

Their website reminds me of those cheeky SDI animations from the Reagan Era, a certain confusion of aspiration with reality. It also has a nice contemporary kickstarter cozyness.

"Mach 2.2 is 1,451 MPH, 2.6X faster than other airliners" Wow, I'm sold!
posted by Pembquist at 9:33 AM on March 22, 2016


Enough to support an all business-class flight from NYC to London City Airport - bypassing the trip from Heathrow to the financial district.

Okay, but that doesn't involve developing an entire aircraft, and the odds that this thing would be able to use a 4900' runway and produce noise levels that won't drive City assholes bonkers seem, ex ante and to a layperson, really low.

But I suppose I also shouldn't underestimate the number of people who would fly on it for no better reason than to prove that they can.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:45 AM on March 22, 2016


ROU_Zenophobe: LCY does a roaring trade in bizjets, which as you know aren't subject to the same hushkit requirements as civil airliners.

I bet the ciy assholes find a way to lobby for an exception to noise regs for what is effectively going to be their own personal inter-office shuttle. All they need is a landing strip on the Hudson, and I gather there's room to moor an aircraft carrier there ...
posted by cstross at 10:20 AM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


YCombinator's backing (the VC folks who invested in DropBox on the ground floor)

They've also invested in Wundrbar, Flagr, and Hubchilla...so, I'm not impressed with that.
posted by MikeKD at 10:28 AM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


People who would use a service like this exist. They currently fly in Upper Class on Virgin from NY to London, which includes a limo pickup from home and dropoff at your destination, plus a "clubhouse" waiting area at the airport where you can booze it up and get a massage, plus a bypass/express line for security.

Someone who's got $100M+ or a ton of frequent flier miles or is a corporate officer (who has a charge account and a ton of frequent flier miles) is going to use this, because it saves them time and stress, and they can afford it.
posted by zippy at 11:05 AM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


I expect this company to expand rapidly given that they've got YCombinator's backing

Hahaha, YCombinatior gives $120k for 7% of the company. Can't hire very many aerospace engineers for $120k, total.
posted by sideshow at 11:15 AM on March 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


They talk about the LA to Sydney route as being feasible. I see one bizjet that can handle that, the Gulfstream G650. It has a capacity of around 15 people, so I'm going to declare it comparable. Crunching some numbers I see it gets about 24 mpg/passenger. The Concorde, by contrast, got around 16mpg/passenger (the big jets get anything from 80-100mpg/passenger).

They say that they will be 30% more efficient than Concorde, which means that, very roughly, they are going to be able to fly twice as fast as the G650 with the same fuel efficiency. That seems ambitious. It's also not going to be cheap. However you slice it they'll be using much more fuel than a 777 to travel the same distance.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:40 AM on March 22, 2016


Really glad to see eriko dropping some aero nerdery in here, for the part of me that appreciates applying today's technology to a unicorn concept from a different time to see if it's feasible, and what happens when we throw away the rule book and let some crazy folks work in secret for a few years.

The majority of me, however, would be more excited about a seat that reclines more than 5° or not having to remove my shoes at the airport, since I don't see myself taking $5k transatlantic flights anytime soon.
posted by a halcyon day at 11:55 AM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


The main reason to do this is to allow us to name the first of these jets Boomy McBoomFace.
posted by storybored at 12:19 PM on March 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


I'm not an aeronautical engineer, but I came in here to basically say the same things that Eriko has said.

I'm really not sure what drugs these guys are dreaming up, because the scope and scale of this undertaking has me thinking that they're completely delusional. The details mentioned in the article don't give me much hope that these guys have any idea what they're doing.

But. Assuming that they do. Maybe -- MAYBE, there's a market for business jets that can fly over-water routes at very high speeds.

Outside of that, I don't see how you're going to have a market for a very small plane with very high operating costs, even ignoring the development/manufacturing costs of the airframe itself.

Another pair of observations worth noting:

Right now, our fleet of passenger jets is remarkably young -- the many incremental advances in efficiency add up to considerable cost savings for airlines, which far outstrips the cost of new planes. Conclusion: For commercial airlines, reliability and operating costs are almost always going to outweigh everything else.

Again, remember that, even though the grand vision for Concorde never came to fruition, the concept still ultimately failed because of high operating costs. Even if Concorde was quieter and got permission to fly over the continental US, they'd still face the same issue.

On the flipside, most General Aviation aircraft are ancient. Apart from avoinics (which can be upgraded), the technology has barely changed since the 1960s -- piston engine technology still has not passed the point where we can safely use unleaded fuel. In these (niche) markets, the cost of developing/building a new plane is prohibitively high. The only hope of innovating in this market is to sell something to an airline or the military, or hope that something trickles down from one of those two sectors. There's no way that you're going to greenfield a supersonic aircraft that has a very limited market reach. It's just not going to happen.
posted by schmod at 12:34 PM on March 22, 2016


Boomy McBoomFaceButt
posted by zippy at 12:37 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


There's no way that you're going to greenfield a supersonic aircraft that has a very limited market reach. It's just not going to happen.

It's all about the cost of money. There are times when it is possible to get a stupendous amount of money before becoming profitable without turning to the government. I think the present window for that has closed, but it could open again.

A company like this could, possibly, develop an idea outside of goverment, and then be in a better position to bid on contracts that would supplement the initial funding, a la SpaceX. VC funding could get them to the point where their bids on greenfield ideas would be cheaper than eatablished defense contractors
posted by zippy at 12:44 PM on March 22, 2016


Apart from avoinics (which can be upgraded), the technology has barely changed since the 1960s -- piston engine technology still has not passed the point where we can safely use unleaded fuel.

I'm going to risk going off-topic here and take a small issue with that assertion. There are three major technological advances since, say, the year 2000 that have made major strides in GA piston craft. First is composites, which GA adopted well before airliners did. Second is the diesel engine, which is old technology but finally coming around for aviation use (Diamond developed a whole twin around it before Thielert went belly up). Diesels run on jet fuel and take advantage of the existing distribution network without requiring special stops at diesel-refuelling stations. The third is the whole-aircraft emergency parachute (Cirrus pioneered that one) which is saving lives on a regular basis. The issue isn't that advances aren't being made, it's that new aircraft are prohibitively expensive for most pilots and the STCs for, say, a diesel conversion just aren't available all that often.

And don't knock avionics - GPS was basically an expensive toy 15 years ago, but the fact that you can go direct from point A to point B without following airways or VOR hopping saves a ton in fuel and time.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:50 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


leave NY at 6 AM. Which means getting to JFK at 3 AM.

I don't know about NY, but for a frequent flyer thats crazy.

I do LAX-NRT a lot, and I get to the airport maybe 1.5 hours before takeoff. For domestic, I arrive 45 min before takeoff (15 min before boarding).

There is no customs/immigration leaving the US, so you're just dealing with security. If you're a frequent flyer, you have PreCheck. If you're checking bags, you have a dedicated counter (or area) for you (Delta counter at LAX is in a whole different room than the non-frequent-flyer counter, and has like 10x the ratio of staff:customers).

And its only frequent/business travelers who will be paying for supersonic flight.
posted by thefoxgod at 1:33 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


(And sometimes I just go ahead and get to the airport an hour before boarding for an international flight. There's really no difference in how early you have to get there, but the inconvenience of missing an international flight is a little higher so I usually want a little buffer just in case like the security line gets shut down due to an incident or something).
posted by thefoxgod at 1:35 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I do LAX-NRT a lot, and I get to the airport maybe 1.5 hours before takeoff. For domestic, I arrive 45 min before takeoff (15 min before boarding).

In early morning, I pad just a little bit more, but yeah, I'm not spending hours at an airport before every flight. I have a life to live outside of airports.
posted by eriko at 2:07 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Hahaha, YCombinatior gives $120k for 7% of the company. Can't hire very many aerospace engineers for $120k, total.

There are people in non management roles essentially turning wrenches and running wires making close to that. 75k is not unheard of for like, an LV electrician or parts fitter. There are absolutely people assembling planes, not even designing them, making 120k. And no, i'm not talking about composite layup people or anything.

(Have friends who work, or have worked at Boeing)

Even if they outsource basically everything but engineering and having a small cool office in the valley, i'm on the team of "wow they need a huge order of magnitude more money than they have right now to do this".

But hey, a few people get to say they worked at or ran a cool startup and get this years macbook pro for free i guess. Like, are they aiming for securing the low-boom tech or having one big innovation that just gets them bought by a major player and doing a quick exit?
posted by emptythought at 3:20 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


We could solve all these issues with a series of pneumatic tubes.

I'm more of a big concept guy than a details guy.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:29 PM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


a series of pneumatic tubes

What, like some kind of hyperloop or something?
posted by porpoise at 3:49 PM on March 22, 2016


That is an audaciously bad name for a transportation startup.

Icarus Air: Flying Just Close Enough To The Sun
posted by BungaDunga at 4:38 PM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


outsource basically everything but engineering

Boeing shot itself in the foot when it outsourced a lot of the 787.
posted by LoveHam at 5:08 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


$120K is enough to team up with some actual experienced aerospace engineers and write a really good government grant proposal.
posted by miyabo at 5:29 PM on March 22, 2016


Protip: don't let Jeff Bezos name your startup.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:27 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


They just signed a big deal with Virgin.
posted by Jacob G at 11:45 AM on March 23, 2016


The "big deal" with Virgin is an option to buy the planes if they ever get made. It looks like they are also providing some technical expertise, but no actual money.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 12:02 PM on March 23, 2016


A letter like that allows them to pull in a ton of investment money, as they've (unlike 98% of startups) proven that there's a market and a specific customer.
posted by zippy at 12:05 PM on March 23, 2016


Just this morning I drove past a sign for "SST Towing" and thought they might be exaggerating the speed of their services

Either that, or they offer a very specialized service.
posted by Zonker at 12:12 PM on March 23, 2016


The only tow vehicles belonging to members of Black Flag, Husker Du, the Meat Puppets, Soundgarden, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. Bad Brains, fIREHOSE, Screaming Trees, etc?
posted by entropicamericana at 6:12 AM on March 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


I wish them luck, but they lost me at 10k sq ft of hangar space, that's nothing.
posted by ill3 at 8:10 AM on March 24, 2016


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