The PR fairy floss that is currently touting a mini-supersonic airliner with the ironically onomatopoetic name “Boom”, supported by Richard Branson, ought to trigger bullshit alarms all over the serious media, instead of dross like this in The Guardian

Even though I am a long-time follower and supporter of Branson, this is the sort of announcement that is beginning to wear out his welcome as an erstwhile brilliant entrepreneur and innovator.

The concept Branson is co-floating with publicity-shy figures in Silicon Valley is exciting.

With 40 seats, large windows and a cruise speed of mach 2.2, which is 10% faster than the 100-seat Concorde achieved and slightly slower than the scary mach 2.3 the Soviet era TU-144 claimed under full after-burner-augmented thrust for hopelessly short distances, what isn’t to like about the confection?

Credibility, for a start. The stories, such as this excellent report, insist that Virgin Galactic rather than Virgin Atlantic is ready to take options on the first 10 Booms, via the mechanism of The Spaceship Company, which doesn’t make operational sense, since Galactic is about sub-orbital rocket thrill rides, not scheduled airline flying.

Maybe that’s because US carrier Delta, with 49% of Virgin Atlantic, is much more interested in breaking the grip of the British Airways/American Airlines dominance on the subsonic trans-Atlantic market (preferably with cheap current-technology jets screwed out of Airbus and Boeing for big discounts) than think about science fiction — even nearer-term science fiction.

The story being peddled by outlets like The Guardian is totally lacking in any evidence of serious money being invested pronto in this incredibly attractive, ambitious, but enormously risky project. And it has a tail that looks more than a little like the shark fin vertical stabiliser that Boeing dropped from its Dreamliner poster during its Batman and Robin phase. Even the windows are evocative of the early 787 sketches.

A one-third scale model is rubbish talk unless it going to replicate the 2.2-times-the-speed-of-sound performance of the full-sized jet, and that just doesn’t make economic sense. If Concorde had gone down that route it would take taken at least six more years, and even more indulgences from French and UK taxpayers, to build and certify.

Virgin Galactic is building, building and building a full sized sub-orbital rocket rider that will meet all of its certification hurdles (or else) and then take paying passengers … one day. It will do so in conjunction with an immensely theatrical pterodactyl-like lifter, White Knight Two, to take it first to 50,000 feet and then drop it for a full motor ignition for a parabolic ride to what had better be more than 110 kilometres altitude (one definition of the edge of space) and a few minutes of micro gravity.

Branson has been constantly proclaiming that the first paying passenger flights are imminent for most of this century. But where the hell are they?

If Virgin Galactic, which is seguing into the lucrative Earth-orbiting satellite business, can’t promptly deliver on years and years of promises, the optics for Boom aren’t anywhere near as good as the fairy floss hand-out about Boom pretends.

It may be an unworthy thought, but is there any relationship between the tardiness of Virgin Galactic coming up with the goods with its sub-orbital rocket ride joy flights and the noise made about Boom?

Branson has so many achievements to his illustrious name. Virgin Atlantic avenged the demise of Laker Airways, founded by Sir Freddie Laker in 1966, and remains a competitive airline brand to this day (as well as highly useful to Delta). It was Branson who funded the Brett Godfrey and Rob Sherrard plan for Virgin Blue, which broke the grip Qantas and Ansett had on the Australian domestic sector in 2000, leading to the Virgin Australia of today that some might be beginning to fret about.

But the passage of time is cruel, and relevance depends on big wins, which is much more than insubstantial dollops of sticky PR fairy floss and you-beaut graphics.

Branson needs to come up with something more nutritious and convincing than this.

Peter Fray

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