SCS Alum Blake Scholl Feels Supersonic

Amanda S.F. HartleThursday, January 25, 2024

Alum Blake Scholl is changing how the world flies and making sustainable travel a reality.

Like many revolutionary companies, Boom Supersonic started in a basement.

"We affectionately call it HQ1," says Blake Scholl, Boom's founder and CEO, who earned a bachelor's degree from the School of Computer Science in 2001. "We had 10 people in my basement in Denver, and we eventually upgraded to a hanger."

A decade later, the company's more than 150 employees work in HQ4. They've also got a flight test center in the Mojave Desert, a ground test center in Denver, and a 180,000-square-foot super factory opening in a few months in Greensboro, North Carolina. The company is on track to roll out the world's first sustainable, supersonic airliners that carry passengers before the end of the decade.

"Supersonic aircraft are back, and they're back in a big way," Scholl said.

Supersonic and Sustainable

Concorde, the first supersonic airliner, flew passengers across the Atlantic Ocean in less than four hours starting in 1986. Only 14 Concordes were ever in service, and the final one retired in 2003. Boom's order book stands at 130 aircraft.

"In 2007, I set a lifetime goal of flying supersonic,'" Scholl said. "My career plan was to become an internet billionaire and use that money to start an airplane company. That never happened, so I had to figure out how to start an airplane company with next to no money."

And he did.

Boom's first airplane and history's first independently developed supersonic jet, the XB-1, is making significant progress toward its first flight, which is expected to happen soon. XB-1 is one-third scale of the Overture airliner.

"It gives me goosebumps to say it because it's such a huge milestone for the company, a milestone in aviation," Scholl said.

Overture will be powered by Symphony, a cost-efficient engine that's integral to the plane's success. Symphony is produced with additive manufacturing techniques, provides 35,000 pounds of thrust, and features an air-cooled multistage turbine. Symphony is expected to deliver a 25% increase in time on wing and significantly lower engine maintenance costs, reducing overall airplane operating costs for airline customers by 10%.

Overture and Symphony will be optimized to run on 100% sustainable aviation fuel.

"The really cool thing is you get to net zero carbon running on this fuel, but also the fuel is made of renewable feedstocks like algae, waste oil and forest residue like fallen trees and leaves," Scholl said.

Early Adopter

Scholl started at CMU during what should have been his senior year of high school and graduated in only three years, leaving campus at age 20.

"Looking back, choosing to come to CMU was one of the top five most important decisions I've ever made," Scholl said. "I'm so grateful CMU was willing to do it, and it's so emblematic of what I really love about the CMU culture. There are rules, but they can all be bent and broken with good reason."

Between his second and third years, during an internship with InGAME in the Bay Area, Scholl realized he was only one exit down the highway from a small airport. He'd loved planes and flying for as long as he could remember. He started flying lessons during his internship and earned his pilot's license a few years later.

At CMU, courses challenged and transformed him, too.

"Steven Rudich's 15-251 (Great Ideas in Theoretical Computer Science) changed my life the second semester of my freshman year," Scholl said. "Learning from him how to communicate, how to teach and how to explain was absolutely life-changing. … I feel like I'm channeling everything I learned from him."

After graduation he spent more than a decade in the tech sphere at Amazon, Groupon and Kima Labs, a startup he co-founded, before deciding it was time for something new.

"I thought I would get two weeks into the research of supersonic, understand why it was a bad idea and move on," he said. "Instead, I spent the next year getting educated on aerospace engineering. I took remedial physics, remedial calculus, an airplane design class. I read every textbook I could find, and I was doing problem sets."

After learning his calculations and assumptions were conservative, he jumped in.

"It was a very easy decision to go for it because I knew I'd forever regret not trying," Scholl said. "I would be OK trying and failing, but I wouldn't be OK with not having tried."

Boom's Future Flight Plan

Overture will fly at Mach 1.7, carry 64 to 80 passengers, have a range of 4,250 nautical miles and connect more than 600 global destinations in half the time. Passengers will fly from Newark, New Jersey, to Rome in less than five hours, or Seattle to Tokyo in 4.5 hours.

Inside the plane, the Boom team is "sweating every detail" for a modern, supersonic flight experience that aims to be available and affordable for all.

Scholl wants Overture flights to feel "like stepping into an oasis."

"Today's travel is stressful pretty much the whole time," Scholl said. "As a manufacturer, we can't control security, getting to your gate or where your baggage goes. But once you're on the plane, how does it sound? What does it look like? Is there a lot of visual or auditory clutter? Is there space for your bag whether you're the first or last to board? Are the seats comfortable?"

The company will share more details on their internal design next year, but Blake can reveal one of the most important design decisions that's already been made.

"There are no middle seats anywhere on the airplane."

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Aaron Aupperlee | 412-268-9068 |