United Airlines buys 15 Boom Supersonic airplanes

United Airlines today announced that it has signed a deal with Boom Supersonic to buy fifteen of its supersonic Overture airplanes.

Under the terms of the agreement, United will purchase 15 of Boom’s ‘Overture’ airliners, once Overture meets United’s demanding safety, operating and sustainability requirements, with an option for an additional 35 aircraft. The companies will work together on meeting those requirements before delivery. Once operational, Overture is expected to be the first large commercial aircraft to be net-zero carbon from day one, optimized to run on 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). It is slated to roll out in 2025, fly in 2026 and expected to carry passengers by 2029.

Boom has been developing this supersonic passenger plane since 2016, though little progress has appeared to take place during most of the last five years. This contract appears to be the company’s first real sale. It also appears that it makes United a partner in the plane’s development.

Meanwhile, another company, Aerion, is developing its own supersonic passenger jet, in partnership with Boeing and scheduled for launch in 2023.

We shall have to wait to see which company wins the race to begin commercial flights.

Boeing hires former SpaceX software engineer

Capitalism in space: Boeing has hired a former SpaceX software engineer to head software development for the company.

Boeing on Friday announced it hired Jinnah Hosein as vice president of software engineering, a new role at the aerospace giant. The job will lead a centralized organization of engineers developing software across Boeing’s portfolio of products. Hosein will report to Greg Hyslop, Boeing chief engineer and senior vice president of engineering, test and technology.

…Hosein’s resume reads like a defense industry wish list of Silicon Valley stops. He worked as Google’s director of software engineering for cloud networking, helped design Tesla’s autopilot software and most recently worked as software lead for self-driving startup Aurora.

But it’s his experiences at SpaceX — where he was key to software development for the Falcon, Falcon Heavy, Dragon and Crew Dragon vehicles — that Boeing may look to draw from the most. Boeing and SpaceX have fiercely competed over NASA’s manned space programs, and SpaceX is a competitor for military space launches against the United Launch Alliance, which is co-owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Since software was the main issue that grounded Boeing’s 737-Max airplane as well as caused the serious problems on the first unmanned demo flight of the company’s Starliner capsule, this hire appears to be aimed at fixing these software issues. In both cases the management philosophy behind developing and testing software was very flawed, leaving the product saddled with software that either didn’t work properly or was not tested properly in development.

I imagine Boeing’s top management is hoping Hosein can bring to Boeing some of the agile, focused, and very successful management style found at SpaceX.

Boom unveils its first half-scale prototype commercial supersonic jet

Boom Supersonic, an aviation company that wants to build commercial supersonic passenger jets, has unveiled its first half-scale prototype, dubbed the XB-1, or “Baby Boom”.

They had announced the development of this jet several years ago, and have experienced some delays since. They had hoped to begin commercial operations of their commercial model, dubbed Overture, by ’23, but this remains unclear. Regardless, there does seem interest in this airplane among the commercial carriers, assuming they survive the Wuhan flu panic.

Boom says that the airliner has a projected unit cost of around $200 million each, not including a customer’s desired interior configuration and other unspecified optional extras. This would make it cheaper than many subsonic widebody airliners now on the market, but those aircraft can also carry substantial more passengers. For example, in 2018, Airbus said that the average price of one of its popular A330-200s was approximately $238.5 million, but that aircraft has a maximum seating capacity of 406, nearly four times that of Overture as presently planned. Boeing says that the average price of one of its 767-300ER airliners is around $217.9 million, but again, those planes can seat nearly 300 passengers, depending on the internal configuration.

There has already been not insubstantial interest in the Overture, though, with Boom saying it has commitments to buy up to 76 of the jets from five airlines, including Virgin and Japan Airlines (JAL). Virgin Group has been a major investor in Boom for years now, as well. The Spaceship Company, a Virgin Galactic subsidiary, was previously reported to be preparing to assist in building and testing the airliners.

I will admit, however, that I do not find it encouraging that Virgin Galactic is involved in the plane’s development. In fact, it might even help explain why development was delayed.