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supersonic flight

Mar 26, 2016

Branson's quest for relevance goes 'Boom' at mach 2.2

Richard Branson joins in the PR fantasy about a Concorde successor with an order for jets that will never be built


Why do such good looking graphics sucker so much of the media?
Why do such good looking graphics sucker so much of the media?

The PR fairly floss that is currently touting a mini-supersonic airliner with the ironically eponymous name ‘Boom’ supported by Richard Branson ought to trigger bullshit alarms all over the serious media.

As a long time follower and supporter of Branson, this is the sort of announcement that is beginning to wear out his welcome as an erstwhile brilliant entrepreneur and innovator.

The concept Branson is co-floating with publicity shy figures in Silicon Valley and declarations of intent to order by an unnamed European airline is exciting.

With 40 seats, large windows, and a cruise speed of mach 2.2, which is 10 percent faster than the 100 seat Concorde achieved, and slightly slower than the scary mach 2.3 the Soviet era TU-144 claimed under full after burner augmented thrust for hopelessly short distances, what isn’t to like about the confection?

Credibility, for a start. The stories, such as this excellent report, insist that Virgin Galactic rather than Virgin Atlantic is ready to take options on the first 10 Booms, via the mechanism of The Spaceship Company, which doesn’t make operational sense, since Galactic is about sub orbital rocket thrill rides, not scheduled airline flying.

Maybe that’s because US carrier Delta with 49 percent of Virgin Atlantic, is much more interested in breaking the grip of the British Airways/American Airlines dominance on the subsonic trans Atlantic market preferably with cheap current technology jets screwed out of Airbus and Boeing for big discounts, rather than think about science fiction, even nearer-term science fiction.

The story is totally lacking in any evidence of serious money being invested pronto in this incredibly attractive, and ambitious, but enormously risky project, called Boom of all things. And with a tail that looks more than a little like the shark fin vertical stabiliser that Boeing dropped from its Dreamliner poster during their Batman and Robin or Gotham City phase. Even the windows are evocative of the early 787 sketches.

A one third scale model is rubbish talk unless it going to replicate the 2.2 times the speed of sound performance of the full sized jet, and that just doesn’t make economic sense. If Concorde had gone down that route it would take taken at least six more years, and even more indulgences from French and UK taxpayers, to build and certify.

Virgin Galactic is building, building, and building a full sized sub-orbital rocket rider that will meet (or else) all of its certification hurdles and then take paying passengers, one day. It does so in conjunction with an immensely theatrical pterodactyl like lifter, White Knight Two, to take it first to 50,000 feet and then drop it for a full motor ignition for a parabolic ride to what had better be more than 110 kilometres altitude (one definition of the edge of space) and a few minutes of micro gravity.

Branson has been constantly proclaiming that the first paying passenger flights are imminent for most of this century. It has to be near, very near, but where the hell is it?

If Virgin Galactic, which is seguing into the lucrative, and promising air launched earth orbiting satellite business, can’t promptly deliver on years and years of promises, the optics for Boom aren’t anywhere near as good as the fairly floss hand out about Boom makes out.

It may be an unworthy thought, but is there any relationship between the tardiness of Virgin Galactic coming up with the goods with its sub orbital rocket ride joy flights, and the noise made about Boom?

Branson has so many achievements to his illustrious name. Virgin Atlantic avenged the demise of Laker Airways, founded by Sir Freddie Laker in 1966, and remains a competitive airline brand to this day (as well as highly useful to Delta). It was Branson who funded the Brett Godfrey and Rob Sherrard plan for Virgin Blue, that broke the grip Qantas and Ansett had on the Australian domestic sector in 2000, leading to the Virgin Australia of today that some might be beginning to fret about.

But the passage of time is cruel, and relevance depends on big wins, and big wins these days means billions of pounds or euros, which is much more than insubstantial dollops of sticky PR fairy floss and you beaut graphics.

Branson needs to come up with something more nutritious and convincing than this.


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11 thoughts on “Branson’s quest for relevance goes ‘Boom’ at mach 2.2

  1. Dan Dair

    No friend, you’re thinking of Virgin Galactic……
    (sorry, bad taste)

    It’s pretty isn’t it,?
    Is there really going to be a market for a 40 seater supersonic aircraft.?
    I can see a market for a 200 seater & a market for a 10-maybe 20 seat bizjet,
    but not for anything in-between.?

    Can anyone else identify for me where any ‘real’ sales would come from.?
    (obviously this is just a ‘paper’-plane & Ben’s opinion is that it’ll never be more than that anyway.!)

  2. malcolmdbmunro

    Technical types don’t swallow paper aeroplanes, PR people do. This latest supersonic, or is it hyperbolic, exercise in aviation smoke and mirrors is staggering in its lack of credibility. Your august columns barely deserve to be cluttered with a comment like this except to point out how shallow is the website for http://boom.aero/

    “At our hangar in Denver, we’re combining jet engines and carbon fiber … ” and ” … will fly late next year.”

    The site is coy with no picture of the inside of the hanger. No where is technical information: engine make and thrust, length, height and wingspan, no MTOW, no controls information. Fly by wire, side stick?

    Big knobs on the mast but where is the designer?

    The website screams of investor pitch.

    How many days, weeks before this nonsense disappears into the Bermuda triangle of fanciful dreams?

    By the way, what’s on the low loader?

  3. Tango

    He will use it to carry passenger to the mini space operation of course!

    Some and some. I like the interest in space, not sure I see it was useful but…..

    NASA is also working on a sonic transport X type, 110 passenger conceptually. Why bother?

    That dog don’t hunt. Money better spend on sub sonic.

    If someone else wants to do it let them.

  4. Geoff

    According to my reading the biggest first class market in the world is between London and New York – why would anyone ride a Boom – because they can

  5. Dan Dair

    That’s pretty-much my point.
    Once the burden of the construction-costs were ‘forgiven’ from British Airways, they made a great big bucket of money from Concorde, even though it only flew with around 100 seats.

    From a commercial standpoint, the more seats you can get in the thing, the better, consequently, a 150-200 aircraft would probably sell-out at a similar premium mark-up to what BA’s Concordes made over their B747 competitors.

    Again, this brings me back to my point;
    I can see a market for a commercial airliner & I can see a market for a bizjet.
    I can’t see a market for a supersonic feeder-liner.???

    (I can see a niche-market for a supersonic feeder-liner on premium routes with limited but viable commercial take-up.
    But IMO to build that aircraft, you’d first have to build a commercial airliner & then ‘cut-down’ the airframe to create the smaller aircraft, thus sharing the construction costs with the ‘bigger brother’)

    I know it’s all hypothetical, but the airframe concept at that size just doesn’t make sense to me.!!

  6. Noodle Bar

    Big windows? Weren’t big windows the cause of that British airplane to break up in the air and cause the deaths of many?

    I wouldn’t go near a plane with big windows unless they had been flying safely for decades.

  7. Grizzly

    Noodle Bar

    No, the Comet crashes were caused by fatigue cracking facilitated by the corners of rectangular windows. The size of the windows was not a decisive factor.

    BTW, large windows, either oval, round, or with the corners rounded off, are actually a really good thing. You can find them in Boeing 787s or Gulfstreams, and they make flying very pleasant.

  8. Noodle Bar

    Oh okay. I’m happy to be persuaded – by long term performance of 787s and Gulfstreams….

  9. AR

    Galactic may (one day) be the ultimate in conspicuous overconsumption but BOOM is surely aiming at the tax deductible fatcat market who, in a sane world, would do their ever so twiffik deals via teleconferencing.
    Concord(e)couldn’t pay in the old daze of cheap fuel with 100 seats.
    This is an answer to a need that shouldn’t be felt.
    Utterly otiose.

  10. Dan Dair

    Air France couldn’t make any money off Concorde,
    But BA made bucketloads.

    So much so that when they returned to service after the Paris crash, they’d fully refurbed the interiors (for I think the fourth time overall) & they’d fitted a fully ‘glass’ cockpit and updated all the control systems.

    BA obviously saw a long-term future for their ‘flagship’ Concorde services,
    where Air France’s ops methodologies were costing the company money.

    I heard a tale that Air France were very seriously considering retiring all their Concordes & that BA were very seriously considering taking some of them for their own services.?

    AF were very pleased when Airbus withdrew ongoing-support for the airframe & systems,
    BA were very much less happy.


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