Former Virgin Australia CEO John Thomas has joined Spike Aerospace to help the Boston-based company bring its supersonic business jet to the skies, with a specific focus on helping sell the 18-seat ‘low boom’ S-512 aircraft to airlines around the world.
Spike’s ambition is for the clean-sheet supersonic design to offer premium passengers flights at 40% faster than conventional aircraft “for business or first class fares” by the mid-2020s.
“This will enable business travelers to be more effective and competitive, while personal travelers can enjoy more of the world,” the company says.
Thomas, whose will serve as an advisor on Spike’s executive team, said “Spike Aerospace’s vision for supersonic flight is tremendously compelling and ideally suited for all the major international airlines.”
“In assessing the three main supersonic contenders under development, not only does Spike address the key issue of the sonic boom but importantly I believe offers the optimal combination of the right range, speed, projected operating economics and capital cost.”
After decades working across a range of roles in the aviation sector, the Australian-born Thomas stepped into the role of Virgin Australia Airlines CEO in September 2016, running the airline under Virgin Australia Group CEO John Borghetti.
The two were understood to have enjoyed a long personal as well as professional relationship, and Thomas was considered to be heir apparent to Borghetti.
Thomas oversaw the introduction of Virgin’s Economy X – based on the ‘economy plus’ offering of the larger US airlines – and the launch of inflight WiFi, and was reportedly very popular among Virgin staff and front-line employees.
However, he abruptly left the airline in June 2017, after less than a year in the job. Thomas offered no statement at the time, and Virgin PR briefed the media that his extensive skillset as a consultant had not translated into an executive role where he had to ‘own’ each decision.
Spiking the supersonic market
The Spike S-512 is marketed as “an ultra-quiet supersonic business jet” capable of carrying up to 18 passengers at up to Mach 1.6 with a range of 6,200nm (11,500km).
While Spike’s US-centric range chart is focussed on New York, the Spike S-512 would be capable of darting between Sydney and Singapore in around four hours, or tackling Sydney-Tokyo in five hours.
Spike maintains that by flying at around 1,800km/h, or Mach 1.5, the S-512 can use a modified version of existing engines instead of an all-new engine to shave development time and costs, while the computer-modelled aerodynamic design reduces the problematic sonic boom and helps bounce shockwaves upwards towards space instead of at the ground.
The composite fuselage is also without passenger windows: tiny HD cameras integrated into the jet‘s exterior will stream real-time back onto high-definition screens running the length of the cabin.
If the view’s a bit boring, passengers can select ‘digital wallpaper of other panoramic vistas’, call up a moving map and other inflight information, or just dim the panel for a little shut-eye before touchdown.
Spike Aerospace say the S-512’s windowless design will make for literally seamless construction, higher integrity of the fuselage and reduced drag thanks to its “smooth exterior skin.”
Spike is among several firms racing to prove that the failure of the Concorde doesn’t have to mean that supersonic flight cannot succeed, especially given the advances of the past 50 years since the Concorde made its first flight.
“Things have changed,” says Spike Aerospace CEO Vik Kachoria. “A small company now has the ability to design something that once would have taken thousands of engineers at Boeing to do. But this really isn’t some kind of Star Trek leap forward. This isn’t rocket science.”
Boom Supersonic plans to roll out its XB-1 demonstrator – a 1:3 scale prototype of the Overture 50-seat commercial supersonic jet – in October, with test flights from 2021.
According to Boom, the XB-1 will act as a proving platform for Overture’s “key technologies” such as carbon-fibre composite construction and computer-optimised high efficiency aerodynamics, ahead of Overture’s debut in 2030.
Meanwhile, the Boeing-backed Aerion plans to begin flight testing the 12-passenger AS2 in 2025, promising an “ultra-luxury travel experience” on board the Mach 1.2 business jet.