Richard Branson reveals prototype for supersonic passenger aircraft

Virgin Group founder has teamed with startup Boom to offer ‘affordable’ $5,000 flights between New York and London in 3.5 hours

Richard Branson is planning new supersonic passenger flights in an alliance between Virgin and Boom. Photograph: Boom

The billionaire Virgin Group founder said his Spaceship company would help Denver-based startup Boom build a new generation of supersonic jets and reintroduce transatlantic flight times unseen since Concorde was scrapped.

“I have long been passionate about aerospace innovation and the development of high-speed commercial flights,” Branson said. “As an innovator in the space, Virgin Galactic’s decision to work with Boom was an easy one. We’re excited to have an option on Boom’s first 10 airframes. Through Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing arm, the Spaceship Company, we will provide engineering and manufacturing services, along with flight test support and operations as part of our shared ambitions.”

Branson is partnering with Blake Scholl, a pilot and former Amazon executive, who will later on Tuesday unveil a prototype of the new jet in a hangar in Denver, Colorado. While several other companies, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin, are developing new supersonic jets, Scholl said his plan was likely to beat them to market as it does not require any new technology that would need approval by regulators.

Scholl said test flights would begin in southern California, with plans to launch the first commercial departures in 2023. If the plans stick to schedule, Boom flights will launch 20 years after British Airways and Air France decommissioned Concorde. He said Boom would succeed where Concorde failed because developments in technology and lighter materials meant tickets would be much cheaper.

A rendering of a Boom interior.
A rendering of a Boom interior. Photograph: Boom

“Sixty years after the dawn of the jet age, we’re still flying at 1960s speeds,” Scholl, the founder and CEO of Boom, said. “Concorde’s designers didn’t have the technology for affordable supersonic travel, but now we do. Today, we’re proud to unveil our first aircraft as we look forward to our first flight late next year.”

Scholl said tickets would cost “about the same as tickets in business class”. “I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t want to get there in half the time, rather than have some free champagne,” he said. “It won’t be a bucket-list purchase any more. There is a huge market and the margins are enormous.”

Scholl declined to state how much money Virgin had pumped into the venture, but listed a dozen well-known Silicon Valley venture capital firms and angel investors who had invested funds.

“I started this because I was sad that I never got to fly on Concorde. I waited but no one was doing it, so I decided to,” Scholl said. “Ultimately I want people to be able to get anywhere in the world in five hours for $100. To get there you have to improve fuel efficiency, but step-by-step supersonic air travel will become available for everyone.

“This is supersonic passenger air travel, no bullshit, and it’s actually affordable.”

  • This article was amended on 15 November 2016. An earlier version incorrectly referred to Boom as a Silicon Valley startup. Boom is based in Denver.