140: Baby Got Mach – Supersonic Net Zero Airplanes


Matt and Sean discuss supersonic air travel and Matt’s real feelings about biofuels and Boom’s prospects.

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “Fueling a Clean Supersonic Plane Comeback”: https://youtu.be/b4AZ2eslt5s?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi4dFnLD9622FK77atWtQVv7

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Sean Ferrell: Hey everybody. On today’s episode of Still To Be Determined, we’re gonna be talking about how to mock a mountain out of a molehill. That’s right. We’re talking about super sonic air travel, trying to do it cleanly and quickly and affordably. And spoiler alert, Sean’s not sure that those three things can.

overlapped in the Venn diagram of this discussion, but we’ll get into that in a minute. As usual, I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci-fi. I write some stuff for kids. I’m also just generally curious about technology. Luckily for me, my brother is Matt of undecided with Matt Ferrell. You’re all familiar with him because you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t familiar with there.

So . Yeah. How you doing hat?

Matt Ferrell: I’m good. How you

Sean Ferrell: doing? I’m okay. Interested in this discussion having just done a cross country Trek to San Francisco. That’s right. Everybody. It’s San Francisco, California and I was there for a little bit less than a week. And the adjustment. There and back was predicated upon the exhaustion of two long travel days, particularly the travel back where it was a red eye.

So you get on a plane at 10 o’clock at night in San Francisco and you wake up and it’s supposedly eight o’clock in the morning in New York, but you’re not quite sure how or why and you spend the next several days kind of staggering around saying what happened. Yep. Uh, some of the stuff in Matt’s most recent video seems to be predicated on the idea that that could be a thing of the past.

But again, spoiler alert, Sean’s not too sure. Mm-hmm. , before we get into today’s discussion, though, usually I like at this point to share some thoughts from our previous episode, but this time around I pulled a comment from Matt’s most recent episode. It’s off topic as. Author of the comment is States right out of the Gate, but I thought it was too good a comment to not share.

So I wanted to share these thoughts from Robert Stout who writes, This is O Subject. I hope that’s okay. Hi Matt. I very much enjoy your channel. I was watching your interview on fully charged a long time favorite of mine. It reminded me if your current project, building a Zero Energy Home as an engineer, architect, and builder, plus being an old fart.

I have a lot of experience in a low carbon lifestyle. In particular, I like your interest in CO2 as an energy transfer storage medium. A few years ago I installed a sand, A sand on co2, heat pump, hot water heater in our. If you’ve been generating as much or more electricity than we use for 22 years, so an electric water heater with a C O P three to four times higher than resistance, heat makes sense if you can afford its upfront cost, but it will take a very long time to pay for itself.

In new solar houses I design, I’m using tiny electric tankless water heaters right under the sink or close to where it’s being used. This not only minimizes waste in the pipe, but also provides instant hot water in high mineral water locations. They do need a vinegar rinse once a year, we’ve just dis increased our PV system in anticipation of getting a second electric car.

With the recent reduction in PV cost, it makes sense to add a little cost to the solar and save cost in a heat pump, electric water heater. So it felt a little bit like this is your brother from another mother, if you will. This, this. He also, in his comment, if you’re interested in his, in reaching out to him, he actually gives you a way to contact him.

So he invited you to reach out if you wanted to chat with him. Overall, I just wanted to get your thoughts about all these different steps that he’s taken. What are your, what are your thoughts about some of the things he’s done? I, I,

Matt Ferrell: I love it. I love the different approaches. I, I’ve, I’ve said this a couple times in different videos, but it’s like there’s so many different ways we can all tackle the same exact problem.

So there’s not one right way to do this, like sustainable lifestyle or building an eco-friendly home or. Passive house versus some other method. It’s like there’s no one right way. You have to figure out what, what, what are the techniques and the things that make sense for you? And I loved seeing how his thinking kind of trickled down, especially like the little, uh, instant water heaters that are basically under the sink of each location.

That’s super smart. Yeah. The other thing that you see a lot is now they’re doing a recirculating, uh, hot water where. You basically have a hot water pipe that’s basically going all the way around the house and feeding into the different faucets and there’s always hot water being pumped to that pipe so that when you turn the hot water on, it’s hot instantly.

You don’t have to wait 30 seconds for it to heat up, so you’re not wasting all that water. You’re getting hot water instantly. So there’s like these different approaches that people are taking to solve all these similar problems. It’s, it’s fascinating. I love it. I would be interested

Sean Ferrell: if you ever revisit the idea of tank.

Water heaters comparisons to how they worked decades ago. Because I remember for our family trip when we visited England. England, yeah. And the tankless water heaters technology at that point was the equivalent of a bunsen burner underneath a. A gallon of water and you were supposed to be able to shower with that.

They’ve come a long way. It was, it was a bad joke. So yeah, they’ve come I’D in since then. Yeah, I’d be interested in seeing the specs and how yeah, it actually does provide that kind of water right out of the gate. On today’s discussion, this is our talk about fueling a clean supersonic plane comeback.

This is Matt’s most recent video from October 18th, 2022, and Matt lays out the plans of not just one company, but multiple companies that are all looking at ways and getting back to the, the flights of the past. Effectively, the Concord used to be the fastest means of getting across the Atlantic. It went away as a result of expense not being able to cover the gap created by a lack of demand.

The new technologies that you talk about in your video, I, I had, I was of two minds and I think a lot of your viewers were in the same boat of sometimes things are too good to be true, but mm-hmm. , if there is actual tech in a lab, some. That is the promise of the future that these people are making. Yep.

Even if that future doesn’t come, maybe there’s something there that could be harvested for other means. Yes. So I wanted to have this discussion along those two tracks, basically. Okay, if we take them at face value, what could this mean? And if we can’t get where they claim they can get, What do we have?

Yeah, so one of the biggest things, as I was watching the video, it kept going through my mind and I was glad that you visited it briefly at the end. You expressed it as an option, but not an opinion. And what you said was this. Yeah. . Maybe we don’t need to go so fast. Yeah. Now I’m curious about your opinion.

In your

Matt Ferrell: opinion. I was gonna, I was gonna say I should put my, I should have put my opinion, Yeah. More clearly in the video, because my opinion is, My opinion is that this is not the way to go. That this is, it seems foolish to go after supersonic flight when you consider how much more fuel it uses just to do this.

And it’s like you’re talking about saving yourself a couple of hours on a plane. It’s like, is it really worth burning 5, 6, 7, 8 times the amount of fuel? for fewer passengers. By the way, it’s like a regular 7 47 might have, what, 300 people on it or something like that. It’s like a ridiculous number of people.

These planes are gonna have like 80 people on them, so you’re burning more fuel for less people to shave off a couple hours of time. It just seems. To me personally, kind of ridiculous and I, but there’s technology and designs in the design of what they’re doing that’s fascinating. Really clever engineering around how they design the fuselage, uh, what kinds of materials they’re using.

It’s like that kind of stuff I see as that could trickle down into regular 7 47 style planes. So you can, the most of the best of both worlds, optimizing the materials used in a plane to make it even lighter weight strong. All those kind of things without sacrificing all that extra fuel. You’re burning.

And then the Prometheus fuel, the biofuel that they’re exploring. , when you dig into it, you’re kinda like, I don’t know about this. It’s like, it’s like, it’s not net zero. It’s like, it’s definitely not gonna be net zero. It’s, it’s a reduction in carbon for sure. But you’re, It’s not, it’s not like it’s a, a closed loop cycle of the amount of CO2 that.

Being absorbed from the atmosphere to make the fuel coming back out again. It’s not that right now, it’s, it’s way off from that. So for my personal opinion, it’s . There’s a whole bunch of, I don’t know about this right after I, I don’t know if you saw this, but right after I published this video, like within days of publishing this video, news came out that the overture, the people who are designing their engine backed out and they are now completely.

Anybody to make this engine and

Sean Ferrell: having trouble. So there’s the company that that was tying in with boom, boom, boom. Okay.

Matt Ferrell: So basically boom is now left. Kind of like looking around, being like, We have, we have nobody to make our engine. Nobody’s willing to make this engine anymore. Everybody that we’re working with is bye-bye.

And that raises huge questions of, there may not be legitimacy. Yeah. Right. And, and it, it raises huge questions about Boom specifically, and they may be doomed to go out of business now because if they can’t find, boom, may be doomed. Boom. May be doomed. So I just found the timing really funny that I put this out like days before that news drop, and I was like, Oh, you gotta be kidding, , Right?

Uh, so, but yeah, my personal opinion is that this feels like, I don’t wanna say it’s a fool’s errand, but it’s like, it feels like this is never gonna happen specifically for supersonic. But there’s really cool engineering specific elements that you could pull out and maybe that can be applied elsewhere.

That I find really, really cool.

Sean Ferrell: For me, I kept running into an invisible barrier of why does this have to be done using our current fuel technologies, like, Right. Is that the barrier that’s at work here? Because you talked in other videos about. , the barriers in batter, battery technology, energy density being the key for mm-hmm.

air travel in effectively the weight of the battery that would be needed to allow for a plane to fly would be, it builds exponentially. You need a bigger battery so it can fly, but now because it’s got a bigger battery, it has more weight, therefore it needs a bigger battery. Mm-hmm. . So you end up with, you know, this, this impossible build.

Calculations. Mm-hmm. . But if battery technology can somehow break through that barrier, and you’ve talked about so many different battery technologies recently, I can’t help but wonder is the future of supersonic travel somewhere where battery technology reaches a point where the weight of your energy unit is no longer tanks of liquid, but is now stored.

Batteries, which allows the plane to be lighter, which then allows for more efficiency in the engine to be able to get you to those supersonic right speeds. Which then raises the question, are we talking about a, a future that’s a hundred years from now as opposed to 2040? Like, like we’re not looking at at technology as you, You pointed out the 20 year gap between the Concord engine being.

We just tested it in this factory and we, we ran it and it was effective and now we’re gonna fly it and it’s gonna be 20 years later. Right. So even if Boom had an engine today, you’d be talking about the middle of the 2040s as opposed to Yeah. There’s next year there’s, there’s,

Matt Ferrell: there’s different technologies like several people wrote saying you should look at what, I think it’s a, a plasma jet engine that’s been designed , that’s crazy sci-fi kind of stuff.

That is decades away from really being a thing, if ever . So there are future technologies that might be able to unlock some of this, but I keep coming back to, and I’m not an engineer so I can’t give you the specific numbers, but like the faster you go, the more energy you need. There’s that we’re, That’s physics , right?

It’s never gonna go away. So it comes back to even if we can get electric flight working perfectly, let’s say, let’s say we find the magical battery, like it could be the aluminum ion battery. I was talking to the Graphine manufacturing group from Australia recently. They have a graphine aluminum battery that they’ve got.

Is incredibly energy dense and they see it getting even three times better than it already is now. It’s bananas how energy dense this battery’s gonna be. That could unlock a lot of electric flight, potentially a decade from now, two decades from now, but. When you wanna go supersonic, it’s, it’s gonna take so much more energy.

It’s like, Right, why bother? It’s like, what is, what is fast enough? ? That’s kind of the question of God. It’s like, what is

Sean Ferrell: fast enough and what is your, and what is the goal, I think is a, a big part of this. They’re talking about like, well, you could do, you could get across the ocean in two hours. Yeah. Like I said before, just a couple of weeks ago, I went across the country.

I was there for less than a week. Would I have preferred the flight to take less? Sure. Mm-hmm. , but yeah. Was that a requirement for me? No. And I find myself wondering, is this a push that’s effectively being made while claiming things about it being available to all people? A hundred dollar ticket? To go across the Atlantic.

Yeah. Want me to start on that? But is this literally nothing more than another way of saying like, let’s appeal to the elites and make sure that we have a tier of flight that appeals to the people who want to pop over for dinner and then be home. Like, is that all this is? Is this a new toy, a sales pitch wrapped around a toy for people who would be able to potentially afford this, as you mentioned?

A 7 47 or a 7 67 with 300, 350 seats. Mm-hmm. the economies of scale. You see them at work, it’s cheaper. And how do you do that when you’re now using more fuel in a more expensive plane in less time for 80 people? Well, that’s the

Matt Ferrell: thing is like boom, boom’s plane is supposed to be cheaper to make than one of those kinds of plane.

But like you said, the, the efficiency is a scale completely tip back in favor of the 7 47. 7 67 because you can pack so many more people on it and the cost and you’re using less fuel, which means you’re dividing the cost up across more people, which means each ticket’s gonna be cheaper. So when boom comes out and says a hundred dollars a ticket for a flight, it’s like, in what universe?

It’s like we don’t pay a hundred dollars now for a seven 40. How, how are you, how do you figure that math that your plan’s gonna be a hundred dollars a ticket when you have fewer people on the plane and you take more fuel? Uh, please claim this to me. The, the math just doesn’t work. So yeah,

Sean Ferrell: there were a lot of different types of feedback too in the, in the comments like this one from VR Meer who wrote, When you compared boom’s 75 decibel level to Concord’s 105 decibel level, it would’ve been helpful to remind people that the decibel scale is log aari.

Most think it’s linear. That means the 30 decibel difference is huge. If you, just for a matter of scale, if you take a 10 decibel noise and a 20 decibel noise, the 20 decibel noise is not 10 units louder than the 10. Mm-hmm. , it’s a hundred. Mm-hmm. . So that’s what you’re talking about is, is it’s like the, uh, seismic scale when it comes to measuring earthquakes.

A six. Earthquake is not just one unit different from a five. It is 10 times as strong. So that is a huge part of this too, is that the physics of the noise that these things make, regardless of whether it’s 105 like the Concord or 75 as they’re promising. Here’s some of the impacts that might come out of this.

Like this comment from Mark Def Foyt who wrote, I used to work beside London’s Heathrow airport in the late eighties when the Concord was still taking off from. If you think sonic Boom was a decibel issue, then you should have heard the deafening noise these things made when they were revving up for takeoff.

It was truly terrifying. His use of the word terrifying is what really caught my eye because there was an afternoon, there was several days in San F. That the Blue Angels, the Navy’s acrobatic flight group, they were in town to do a large air show because of the fog in San Francisco. The air show ended up getting canceled, but it didn’t stop them from running test flights and practice flights.

In the days leading up to the day that the air show was supposed to take place, there was an afternoon when I was walking down the street with my partner. We were having a lovely day when suddenly a super sonic boom. Took place right overhead. Whenever you heard these noises of these jets, these are, these are fighter jets.

So it was one of those experiences where you hear the noise and then you look up and cannot see them because they’ve already gone, they’ve, they’ve flown over and they’re behind the buildings around you. You didn’t even know they were there until you hear this boom. The boom, this one afternoon was so unexpected.

It came out of nowhere so that suddenly it was. Cat-like roar, followed by the hammer explosion of the boom. Yeah, and I am not exaggerating when I say I clenched my fists. I doubled over at the waist and I screamed as loud as I could.

Matt Ferrell: What can I, Can I say I’ve heard, I’ve heard sonic booms too. I was at a SpaceX launch and when the. When the booster rockets come back down to land themselves, they break the sonic barrier coming back down. And I remember I was there and they were like, Okay, now prepare yourself. They’re about to do the sonic.

Boom, it’s gonna be loud. And all of us were like, Yeah, it’s gonna be loud. And it was like, bam, bam. And it was like the world was shaking and all of us basically crapped our collective pants when it happened. It was very exciting and thrilling. We knew it was happening, so we weren’t caught off guard, but.

Loud and you don’t even have to go sonic. Boom. I live close to an Air Force base that does Jets take off a lot and do practice runs around my area. And there was some kind of drill going on a few weeks ago and there were like three or four jets that were just like going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and they weren’t even going.

Super Sonic Sean, but it was so loud. I thought we were in a war zone. It was just deafening with them just going back and forth for like 20 minutes. I can’t imagine living anywhere close to an airport or anything where you’d be hearing this on a consistent basis. It would get old fast.

Sean Ferrell: It living near an airport or living on the flight path even would be, Yeah, something that would, You would see housing.

Values drop and you’d have an increase in those no man’s lands around airports where the only thing you see are, are warehouse structures. It’s, it’s not something you’d wanna be. There was also this from Krishan Mystery who wrote, I think the most viable market for supersonic flights would be transpacific.

The flight time is a larger part of the flying travel experience for longer flights. Flying transatlantic, you spend only half the time actually flying. The other half is spent getting to the airport, getting through security boarding, then baggage claim, and going to the destination, and that was exactly my experience.

When you talk about these numbers and saying, Oh, being able to go across the country in two hours, I’m in New York City. It took me two hours to get to the airport. Yep. Unless this plane is picking me up at home, it’s not saving me that much time. Yeah. Yep. That’s a big, that’s a big part of the, the mystery here as well is, is the claims may be shaving numbers off the wrong part.

It’s Yeah, yeah. The time spent in the air. Yeah. There was also a repeated refrain in the comments, which I think really hand it home for me of what people are looking for. Mm-hmm. , there were lots of comments. I don’t need to get there in two hours. Give me a seat with leg room and a seat that reclines. Yes.

To a lying position. And I’m happy for the flight to take as long as it needs because I can just go to sleep. So, Yep. I think instead of investing in, how do we make more fuel out of trees that we cut down and then burn, as you pointed out. Hmm. That’s weird. , let’s invest in, you know, maybe six inches more of leg room.

So we. Yeah, with the only way of stretching out being to ask our neighbor ahead of us if it’s okay if we put our legs over their shoulders, . So listeners, what do you think? Would you rather spend less time on the plant itself or more time in comfort? And what do you think about the claims around fuel efficiency and fuel usage and the need?

For, let’s get across the country, or let’s get across the Atlantic in under a three hour timeframe. Let us know what you think. You can reach out through the contact information in the podcast description or on YouTube. You can just scroll beneath the video of our smiling faces and leave a comment below.

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