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Boom Supersonic will test fly its new faster-than-sound XB-1 jet in 2021

Aviation startup Boom Supersonic plans to fly a supersonic jet demonstrator in 2021, the company recently announced.

The XB-1 demonstrator will be 71 feet (22 meters) long and made of carbon composite, allowing it to remain resilient to flying faster than the speed of sound, the company said in an October statement. The ultimate goal is to create an airplane that will fly Mach 2.2, or 2.2 times the speed of sound (opens in new tab).

"XB-1 is an important milestone towards the development of our commercial airliner, Overture, making sustainable supersonic flight mainstream and fostering human connection," Boom founder and CEO Blake Scholl said in a statement (opens in new tab).

Video: Supersonic XB-1 aircraft revealed by Boom (opens in new tab)
Related: Stratolaunch building Talon hypersonic plane for Mach 6 flights (opens in new tab) 

Boom Supersonic unveiled its XB-1 supersonic passenger aircraft in October 2020. (Image credit: Boom Supersonic)

If the flight plans for XB-1 go as planned, and if Overture's development stays on schedule, the company says it hopes to do full-scale flight testing in 2025 for passenger flights later in the decade. The goal is to slice standard cross-ocean airplane travel times in half. For example, a trip from Paris to Montreal would take 3 hours and 45 minutes, half of the standard 7 hours and 15 minutes available today, Boom said on its website (opens in new tab).

Other design features of the XB-1 include three General Electric J85-15 engines, an ergonomic cockpit optimized for high-speed flights and a delta wing for stability at takeoff and landing.

Boom is privately funded and has gone through several rounds of venture capital fundraising, including a $51 million round in 2017 and a $100 million round in 2019. Richard Branson's Virgin Group has pre-ordered aircraft from Boom (opens in new tab) to build a fleet of supersonic aircraft. Branson founded the airline Virgin Atlantic and the space tourism company Virgin Galactic, which hopes to run commercial suborbital flights later in the 2020s.

Related: Virgin Galactic unveils Mach 3 design for supersonic passenger flights (opens in new tab)

Boom was founded in 2014 and has more than 140 full-time employees who have contributed to more than 220 air and spacecraft programs, Boom said. The company's forthcoming flight demonstrations will come two decades after two supersonic airliners suspended operations due to the ongoing cost and complication of sustaining a high-speed airline business.

The British-French supersonic passenger airliner Concorde (opens in new tab) was in operation between 1969 and 2003. Concorde was permanently grounded three years after the 2000 crash of Air France Flight 4590 killed all passengers and crew, amid a greater downturn in the aviation industry following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. 

The Soviet Union's rival to the Concorde, a supersonic passenger plane called Tupolev Tu-144 (opens in new tab), was in operation from 1968 to 1999, but only flew commercially for a few years in the 1970s. While the program was canceled in 1983, later in its career existing airplanes were used for research and to train pilots for the short-lived Soviet Buran space shuttle (opens in new tab), which flew once in space autonomously.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Branson's Virgin Group, not his Virgin Galactic, has pre-ordered vehicles with Boom.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.