Rolls Royce out! Boom Overture has no engine?
Going against the grain is never easy, but it’s usually more interesting. Specifically, it often leads to innovation. Or, sometimes, luck comes into play. Maybe an industry suddenly realizes it was heading in the wrong direction. In such a case, the well-placed “rogue” player can suddenly become the industry leader.
Introducing a new aircraft to the market is difficult, especially if the manufacturer itself is new. For its Overture to carry passengers, Boom needs more than just an engine supplier. He has to build his own supply chain, build a production and assembly plant, fix all his problems. The Chinese COMAC, for example, hopes to obtain certification for its C919 before the end of this year. It’s already over a year behind schedule – based on its plans this time last year.
Boom, Rolls-Royce and the right engine
But the C919 is essentially a conventional design – with many, MANY similarities to the Airbus A320. “Conventional” isn’t a word you can use to describe Boom’s opening. Boom has a long way to go to make that a reality, and having a motor partner is a big part of that process. Until recently, Rolls-Royce was, at least in theory, Boom’s partner.
This is no longer the case. In a statement, Rolls-Royce said the following about Boom and its engine partnership:
“We completed our contract with Boom and delivered various engineering studies for their Overture supersonic program. After careful consideration, Rolls-Royce has determined that the supersonic commercial aviation market is not currently a priority for us and therefore will not be continuing work on the program at this time. It was a pleasure to work with the Boom team and we wish them much success in the future.”
As striking as this news may seem, it is not very surprising. Rolls-Royce and Boom announced their engine partnership in July 2020. Except they didn’t call it that. The press release refers to it as a “commitment agreement to explore pairing a Rolls-Royce propulsion system with Boom’s flagship supersonic passenger aircraft…”
The right partners
More recently, we’ve seen that Rolls-Royce isn’t actively designing an engine for the Boom Supersonic. He also suggested that the type of investment required by such an engine would only be possible if there was a strong business case for the aircraft. As we’ve seen, Boom changed the design of the Overture this summer, to a four-motor configuration. At the time, Boom did not confirm that Rolls-Royce was still its engine supplier.
Boom has an aggressive development and entry into service schedule. After finalizing the aircraft configuration this summer, the company hopes to have the prototype in the air by 2026. Moreover, we have yet to see its single-seat, three-engine prototype, the XB-1, take flight. Also, it’s unclear whether the Overture’s new layout still makes the XB-1’s data useful to the design team.
Nevertheless, Boom has amassed a number of partners, both as potential customers and suppliers. These include United Airlines, American Airlines, Japan Airlines (JAL), Safran (supplier, landing gear, etc.), Northrop Grumman, Collins Aerospace and the US Air Force. The amount of this funding is unclear.
It’s also unclear if Boom has other engine options. Previously, Aerion partnered with GE for its supersonic design. The company abandoned its efforts for financial reasons last year. GE’s engine used technology from the CFM-56, in a configuration closer to GE’s military jet engines – with which the CFM-56 shares some lineage anyway. So, could Boom and GE enter into such a partnership? If the manufacturer wants to stick to its development schedule, we should have an answer shortly.