Podcast

From Supercomputing to Supersonic

Voices
Blake Scholl, Jolie Hales, Ernest de Leon

It’s been about two decades since Concorde flew passengers across the Atlantic at supersonic speeds, and if it were still in operation today, a ticket would cost you around $20,000.  Some saw the retirement of Concorde as the end of supersonic commercial air travel, but undercover superhero Blake Scholl of Boom Supersonic plans to break the sound barrier with passenger travel once again by 2030, with dreams of creating a new normal.  In this episode, we hear parts of Blake’s BC20 speech about how his company is able to make this dream a reality through virtually unlimited high performance computing.  We also touch on the on-premises vs. cloud HPC arenas, and revisit the world before conferences went completely online.


Credits

BC20 talk given by Blake Scholl, CEO, Boom Supersonic

Producers: Taylore Ratsep, Jolie Hales

Hosts: Jolie Hales, Ernest de Leon

Writer / Editor: Jolie Hales

Blake Scholl's Full Talk at BC20

Follow Boom Supersonic

Referenced on the Podcast

SC Conference Series

SC Conference Series - logo
Learn more about the SC conference

Meet Clifford of Gone-Prem

Watch more Clifford

Chuck Yeager Breaks the Sound Barrier

Concorde's First Flight

Boom Supersonic's Rollout of XB-1

Episode Citations
  1. Stokes, Erin K; Zambrano, Laura D; Anderson, Kayla N; Marder, Ellyn P; Raz, Kala M; Suad El Burai Felix; Tie, Yunfeng; Fullerton, Kathleen E. Coronavirus Disease 2019 Case Surveillance - United States, January 22, May 30, 2020. Center of Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6924e2.htm
  2. Governor Gavin Newsom Issues Stay at Home Order. March 19, 2020. Office of Governor Gavin Newsom. https://www.gov.ca.gov/2020/03/19/governor-gavin-newsom-issues-stay-at-home-order/
  3. SCinet History https://sc20.supercomputing.org/scinet/scinet-history/#:~:text=SCinet%20History%20Timeline,role%20in%20the%20SC%20legacy
  4. The Surprising Truth about Virtual vs. In-Person Conferences. May 1, 2020. Promoleaf. https://promoleaf.com/blog/the-surprising-truth-about-virtual-vs-in-person-conferences?version=48e2d9e&apiVersion=63b6809
  5. Concorde. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concorde (accessed February 2021)
  6. Sillers, Paul. How soon will supersonic jets return to our skies? CNN. February 5, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/when-will-supersonic-flight-return/index.html
  7. Supersonic speed. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supersonic_speed (accessed February 2021)
  8. Cruise (aeronautics). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cruise_(aeronautics)#:~:text=The%20typical%20cruising%20airspeed%20for,%3B%20547%E2%80%93575%20mph (accessed February 2021)
  9. Supersonic flight. Encyclopaedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/technology/supersonic-flight (accessed February 2021)
  10. Concorde's Last Flight. BBC Report, news clip. https://youtu.be/gTxtHQb3rg8

Jolie Hales:
One big supercomputing conference in the United States, whoa, slurred speech.

Jolie Hales:
Hi everyone, I'm Jolie Hales.

Ernest de Leon:
And I'm Ernest de Leon.

Jolie Hales:
And welcome to the Big Compute Podcast. Here, we celebrate innovation in the world of virtually unlimited compute, and we do it one important story at a time. We talk about the stories behind scientists and engineers who are embracing the power of high performance computing to better the lives of all of us.

Ernest de Leon:
From the products we use every day to the technology of tomorrow, high performance computing plays a direct role in making it all happen, whether people know it or not.

Jolie Hales:
Hey Ernest.

Ernest de Leon:
What?

Jolie Hales:
Remember that long ago time when people gathered together in person to do anything really, but to geek out over common interested like going to Comic-Con or CES? Did you ever have a favorite conference or convention?

Ernest de Leon:
Absolutely, and there's three that I went to every year.

Jolie Hales:
Oh really?

Ernest de Leon:
Obviously except for 2020. I go to DEF CON every year in the summer in Vegas, that's a hacking conference. PAX, there's two of them I go to every year. And then the last one is PRGE.

Jolie Hales:
What's PRGE?

Ernest de Leon:
PRGE stands for the Portland Retro Gaming Expo. And it's exactly what it sounds like, nothing but retro arcade machines, pinballs, and there's an expo floor with nothing but people buying and trading retro video games.

Jolie Hales:
Do you think they offer Joust? That was my all-time favorite when I was seven years old.

Ernest de Leon:
They do.

Jolie Hales:
I need to go to this.

Ernest de Leon:
Yeah, and the great thing about it is there's multiple rows of arcade machines and pinballs and they're all on free play so you just come in there and play.

Jolie Hales:
What? That sounds amazing. No wonder you go to this. Well, for me, there's not one that I go to every year. For a while it was the D23 Expo -- have you ever heard of that one?

Ernest de Leon:
No, I haven't.

Jolie Hales:
It's the Disney big convention, and I've always wanted to go to Comic-Con or CES but I never actually have. I would love to just people-watch at Comic-Con to be honest with you, plus I'm a nerd at heart and I'm sure I would get a kick out of a lot of the stuff there. But since this is the Big Compute Podcast, it's also worth mentioning the many conferences that involve supercomputing or simulation in some way. And there's a ton of these, especially based around certain industries that use simulation. One big conference in the United States that many of our listeners are familiar with probably is the SC conference. SC standing for Supercomputing. And they basically describe themselves as, actually I'll quote their website, "The international conference for high performance computing, networking, storage and analysis." And they've been going strong pretty much every year since 1988. In fact, Ernest, it sounds like you've never been to an SC Conference, have you heard of the SC Conference?

Ernest de Leon:
I've heard of it, I've never been to it. Most of the stuff I've been to that's related to this is USENIX and Interop type things, but I've never been to the SC Conference.

Jolie Hales:
I mean, this year you couldn't have really gone in person, obviously. SC went online like so many others. And I did get to be involved with some SC20 content creation, but that was pretty much the extent of it for me this year. And while conferences are doing the best they can, because obviously this pandemic basically rendered in-person events defunct for a while, and I will say that for many of us, the experience just doesn't carry the same vibe when they go online. In fact, for you Ernest, do you have a preference? Do you like attending conferences or conventions in person or do you prefer attending them online or virtually?

Ernest de Leon:
So, I think in my case, it's mostly a preference for in-person, and that's mainly because the conferences I attend are mostly gaming related so I'm going with friends and we're doing stuff. And so I would say, obviously I'd prefer to go in person for all of the conferences that I would actually attend. But there's plenty that I would never attend otherwise that I actually got to see online. And the other thing is, PAX this year went online obviously because the pandemic, and it definitely was not the same. And I lost interest fairly quickly. I think the first day I attended most of it, the second day maybe half of it and then didn't even bother coming back for the rest of it. So yeah, it's unfortunate that online just doesn't carry the same sentiment or the same vibe that in-person does.

Jolie Hales:
Yeah, in fact I was digging into this because I wanted to see what people prefer. And there was a study that I found that was conducted by Censuswide for PromoLeaf and I'll link to it in the episode notes at Bigcompute.org because there's a lot of information that was really interesting in it. And it asked over 1,000 people who have attended both kinds of events, so virtual and in person, and it asks them whether they prefer conferences to be in person or virtual. So Ernest, do you care to guess what the results were?

Ernest de Leon:
Well, when was the survey taken?

Jolie Hales:
Why are you such an engineer? You're supposed to be like, "Well, I think it's this number," but of course you need all the background information. See, that's exactly the point.

Ernest de Leon:
So the reason I'm asking the timeframe here is because I'm certain early on in the pandemic the number was probably closer to 50/50, but the longer the pandemic dragged out, that number has probably shifted significantly towards in-person versus online because people were tired of being locked up at home.

Jolie Hales:
Yeah, and I had the same thought, but this particular survey that I'm talking about with 1,000 people that were surveyed, was conducted on April 9th of 2020. So to your point, that was in the earlier months of the pandemic at a time when conferences were just starting to go virtual. So just like you, I think it would be interesting to see if these numbers are different now and I totally imagine that they would be. But the number was, are you ready? It was more than 70% at that time preferred in-person conferences. So if we're guessing that that number's going up because people are getting sick of sitting on their butt at home, then it'd be interesting to see if it's like 85% or something now. Now that's just a guess, I have no idea. Or if maybe people really are enjoying staying at home. I guess maybe when it comes to these conferences, it probably just depends on the conference. And if you're going because you feel obligated or you are obligated by your work versus going because it's interesting to you.

Jolie Hales:
For me, there's just something really cool about traveling to a big conference or convention because you're surrounded by thousands of people who have these similar interests. And there's this energy there that can't really be duplicated over Zoom while you're sitting at home eating corn flakes and wearing second-day socks.

Ernest de Leon:
Absolutely. When you show up at a place like DEF CON or PAX, and then you go to just a restaurant or a bar or whatever it is, there's no one there other than people who have the same interest you do.

Jolie Hales:
Yeah, who are from that convention. And everybody's got their lanyards on or they're wearing their costumes if they're cosplayers and they're, like, at Wendy's.

Ernest de Leon:
Yeah, and they're just sitting together talking about whatever the topic is of that convention.

Jolie Hales:
And for this episode, I want to take us back to a time before an infectious microorganism that is 1/900th the width of a piece of hair, pretty much effected the way 7.8 billion people lived on the planet. And if it's okay, I wanted to share some personal experiences surrounding my supercomputing-themed conferences. So bear with me.

Ernest de Leon:
I think we'll allow it.

Jolie Hales:
Oh, thanks. Thanks, Ernest, that's so nice of you. So, in November of 2019, because I'm relatively new to the tech industry, my first conference was in November of 2019, which was just weeks before the Coronavirus first popped up in Wuhan. And I had the chance to actually attend SC19 in person, which is the supercomputing conference we referenced earlier, and I remember walking into the large exhibit hall for the first time and just being in awe seeing these massive displays from these supercomputing behemoths like NVIDIA, who I really love NVIDIA, I just put one of their new 3060TI graphics cards in my brand new computer build, I'm a big fan. And then there was like HPE Cray was there and these huge booths dedicated to these major tech companies.

Jolie Hales:
Pretty much every player in the high performance computing industry goes to the Supercomputing Conference. So at the time, I was there as a representative of Rescale, who -- full disclosure -- is the primary sponsor of this podcast. And we were focused on multi-cloud HPC, where as now Rescale is more hybrid, very cloud still but also hybrid. But the impression that I got at SC19 was that while cloud HPC services did have a footprint there, most of the conference was more about showcasing top notch on-premises HPC hardware. And there was even this little bit of an underlying competitive culture between cloud based HPC people and the classic on-prem HPC people, as you might imagine. And there were strong opinions about both.

Ernest de Leon:
I can only imagine. I have obviously been on both sides of that coin and I see that there are benefits to each side, but it's like anything else, if you are primarily entrenched in one group your view of things is kind of formed by that group that you're entrenched with.

Jolie Hales:
Yeah, it definitely has a lot of influence on you. It kind of becomes a part of who you are in a way. And for me at the time, being from a cloud HPC company, and I wonder if actually some of our listeners will remember this, but in order to stand out amidst the ever prominent hardware giant tech names all around us, my colleague, Tanner, came up with this idea to bring a special guest with us in hopes of making a memorable impression at this conference.

Ernest de Leon:
Uh-oh.

Jolie Hales:
So Ernest, I'm not sure what you were up to in 2019, but have you heard anything about a guy named Clifford?

Ernest de Leon:
I know of a big red dog named Clifford.

Jolie Hales:
No, this Clifford is a lot dumber than that Clifford.

Clifford:
Okay, well no one's ever accused me of being a genius, but that's about to change.

Jolie Hales:
So Clifford was this character that we came up with and he was this doofy janitor guy.

Clifford:
I heard about these supercomputers, which are just fancy machines that help the engineers get their work done in the building. I don't use any of them for my job.

Jolie Hales:
And he overheard an engineer talk about how super computers were going to the cloud.

Clifford:
I'm smart enough to know that if an aerospace engineer wants to shoot his arrows into space, he's going to want to do it from the cloud because it's closer instead of from computers down here on the ground.

Jolie Hales:
And he basically sees this business opportunity and decides to start his own HPC recycling business because he figures that, "Hey if everyone's going to start going to the cloud, then they'll obviously need to get rid of their on-premises supercomputer equipment."

Clifford:
Call Gone-Prem! We take all of your troubles and we get rid of them for you.

Jolie Hales:
And he literally thinks it's the clouds in the sky -- he thinks that everyone's going up to the clouds.

Ernest de Leon:
That is great.

Jolie Hales:
I didn't know if you'd think that was funny or just completely ridiculous.

Ernest de Leon:
It sounds like such a Dilbert comic.

Jolie Hales:
And it really was, and it was just meant to be so dumb, and it definitely accomplished that goal because it was so dumb.

Clifford:
No more extra HPC stuff lying around! We dispose of those, dispose of those, dispose of those! That's right, I said it three times so that way you remember it.

Jolie Hales:
So Clifford starts this HPC recycling company and he names it Gone-Prem because he can take your on-prem and make it gone-prem.

Ernest de Leon:
So good.

Clifford:
Call Gone-Prem, the number one company, we get rid of your old stuff, company.

Jolie Hales:
And what better event to jumpstart his business than the SC Conference where he assumes that everyone's just going to have all this on-prem equipment that needs to be recycled if clearly everyone's going to the cloud.

Ernest de Leon:
That is so amazing. I can imagine the faces of the people who are still selling on-prem equipment.

Jolie Hales:
I know. So we published a few short films about Clifford and Gone-Prem in these weeks leading up to SC19, and then this is the guy that we bring to this big supercomputing conference, and he's actually a really skilled improv actor who I've worked with a number of times before. And so he shows up at this conference equipped with these terribly designed flyers and ugly business cards, big stickers of his face, he's got trucker hats and he even, to top it all off, this giant box truck with his face and his logo wrapped around it that he conveniently illegally parks right out in front of the conference center in downtown Denver. And then he runs around trying to pass out flyers and stickers to the masses of people trying to enter the conference, many of who actually recognized him from those short films but others had no idea what was going on.

Ernest de Leon:
That's amazing.

Clifford:
That beverage looks delicious, would you like a delicious flyer, there? If you're recycling any computers, I'm your guy.

Conference Attendee:
I'll let you know.

Jolie Hales:
And this was all incredibly hilarious but a little uncomfortable for me because I just wanted everybody to take it as the big joke that it's meant to be, but you have to remember, many of the people attending this conference are, again, there to sell or purchase on-prem hardware, so Clifford's very presence is kind of poking fun at their world. And while a lot of people found him to be really entertaining, I watched other people literally run away from him at a full sprint or look at him in complete disgust, and eventually somebody did end up reporting him and Clifford was escorted off the property by security, while remaining completely in character I might add, good for him.

Ernest de Leon:
Yeah, that's awesome.

Conference Security:
You are free to hand those out and advertise yourself as long as they are just past these right here.

Clifford:
Will you remember the phone number?

Conference Security:
I'll try my best.

Jolie Hales:
And a lot of people would come to the Rescale booth to get pictures with him and videos with him and we had a lot of stupid swag. And Clifford was meant to be this lighthearted and kind of stupid guy that you're not supposed to take him too seriously, and overall most people didn't and they had a really good time. But for me, again, watching people interact with Clifford or do everything in their power to avoid interacting with Clifford, it really helped me see glimpses of how closely our emotions can be tied to our technology, like you were saying. So like how willing we are to defend the tech that we believe in and that we use, whether that's attachments to out smartphone brand or a specific video game console or in our world, the super computing technology that we believe in.

Ernest de Leon:
Or cloud HPC versus on-prem, but I don't think that's as polarizing as Android versus iPhone.

Jolie Hales:
And we could have a war here because I know that you and I are on either side of the spectrum, and somehow manage to find common ground -- I don't know how we do it.

Ernest de Leon:
Yeah, I think it's one of those things where we're adults.

Jolie Hales:
Are we?

Ernest de Leon:
Well sort of.

Jolie Hales:
Maybe you are.

Clifford:
I've only been here a few minutes and I've already met the vice president.

Jolie Hales:
And since I was new and somewhat naïve to this world when I went to SC19 I was kind of surprised by it, I really didn't know what to expect and then when I got there I was like, "Oh my gosh, Clifford is offending a few people." Not very many, very few, but there were a couple people that he really rubbed the wrong way. And here on the podcast, when it comes to cloud HPC or on-prem HPC, a lot of our recent stories here on the podcast have demonstrated a bit of both worlds, because I think we're starting to see more overlap these days, like a hybrid or a combo. In fact, while there has been a lot written in the past about cloud HPC adaption not really taking off that quickly, I don't know about you, Ernest, but it seems to be changing a little bit. Like for example, so I got a chance to take a peek at a new study conducted by the team here at Big Compute where they asked HPC managers a lot of questions around this very subject, and the study found that 73% of HPC managers believed that their workloads would be mostly or entirely in the cloud in the next five years. And I can't help but wonder if the events of 2020 kind of pushed that number upwards as people had to work remotely.

Ernest de Leon:
I agree with that. And the reason is because I think a lot of people don't realize where the cloud sits in terms of if you put this thing in layers. So, to our listeners, it's going to be obvious that everything is on-prem in some context. Even when you're in the cloud, you may be consuming resources via a cloud but that cloud is maintaining data centers with on-prem hardware. So it's on-prem, no matter what. It's how you're accessing it and how that hardware is configured. And so I think the evolution that's happening, or the reason it seems like it has a long tail and it's not picking up steam as fast, is because you have this industry, HPC and supercomputing, which has been around for a very long time and has many, many tools written for it to run in a specific context. The cloud is kind of the evolution of that, but a lot of the tooling and the software packages have not evolved yet to that new model. Some have, but a lot of them haven't, and the other thing is, HPC and supercomputing have some very specific architectures, designs and things they're trying to accomplish with a given set of hardware. And the cloud is very much trying to be multipurpose and be able to be used by everybody.

Ernest de Leon:
So it's one of those things where I think I agree with this 100% that 73% believe that they're going to be mostly or entirely in the cloud in the next five years. If you were to ask again in five years, I would push that number closer to 90. But it's an evolution, so it takes time for us to get from one point to the next point. And by the way, we had this same exact situation happen when we went from on-prem, I'll call it regular computing, to the cloud. Where there were so many system administrators and network administrators who were just defiant that this was not going to happen and they weren't going to let it happen and they refused to cede control, part of it was a job security thing. But a lot of them eventually realized that it is better for you to offload so much of that maintenance and the cost and the time to keep all this stuff running, and instead focus your tech people on your core business and not managing infrastructure because that's not your core business, for most businesses.

Ernest de Leon:
And so I agree, I think this is one of those things where that survey is on point, and like you mentioned at the end of that, 2020 really pushed that number upward. Because even if someone wasn't using the cloud before, they now had to access these super computers through the cloud or through a VPN or something, which they probably already did, some of them, to be honest. But this forced the issues, is what I'm saying, and now you have a bunch of people thinking like, "Well hey, I was able to do all of my work sitting in my home office or in my kitchen or in my living room, do I really need to be on-prem and do I really care where these computers are located?" And the answer is no, and I think that it's just a matter of time as people start realizing this that you will eventually see all of this stuff make it into the cloud.

Jolie Hales:
And there are a few really cool stories of people who have leveraged this ginormous amount of compute that's available when you're connected to a virtually unlimited hybrid HPC or mostly cloud kind of world. And that brings me to another conference that's related to supercomputing that I do want to mention here today with a lot of these really cool stories. And I want to talk about one, it's from the last conference that I actually attended in person which took place on February 11th and 12th of 2020.

Ernest de Leon:
Literally right before COVID waltzed in.

Jolie Hales:
Yeah, literally. The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed by a lab to be on US soil on January 22nd, but then California didn't start actually locking down until March 19th. So in February it was still pretty much business as usual with this big question mark hanging over everyone's heads, but it was actually our own inaugural Big Compute Conference.

Jolie Hales at BC20:
It is my pleasure to be here with you at Big Compute.

Jolie Hales:
Which was created to celebrate the possibilities of what can be done with virtually unlimited compute resources.

Jolie Hales at BC20:
We're really getting to that point where we're only limited by our imaginations in what we can do.

Jolie Hales:
So, another way to look at it is the in-person speaker series version of this podcast. So there were these presentations that were given in story-based TED Talk styles, and I had the opportunity to be the MC, which made it possible to rub shoulders with some pretty amazing thought leaders.

Jolie Hales at BC20:
Ladies and gentleman, Sam Altman, CEO OpenAI.

Sam Altman:
It turns out that the most impressive advances that we've had in the field of AI research, I think, have been more about massive compute than massive data.

Jolie Hales:
So BC20 was particularly cloud HPC focused, so sponsors included cloud service providers like AWS, Microsoft Azure, Intel, Google Cloud, and then there were simulation software companies that ran in the cloud like Siemens, Ansys, Convergent Science, and then of course our presenting sponsor of this podcast, Rescale, which kind of ties them together and that's how I got involved. And speakers consisted of thought leaders like Sam Altman of OpenAI and then innovators from life sciences, aerospace, automotive -- pretty much every field that uses supercomputing. And we actually hope to bring the conference back once this pandemic finally plays itself out. So that's kind of an alert to all of our listeners that we'll keep you posted on when our next conference hits the calendar, in case you'd like to join us, we'd love to see you there.

Jolie Hales:
And one particular cool talk that was given at the conference is one I want to spotlight today and it was done by Blake Scholl, who is CEO of Boom Supersonic. Is it weird that I kind of want to hear a big boom noise every time I say Boom Supersonic, so it's like, "Boom. Supersonic."

Ernest de Leon:
It is a little weird, but as someone who was once a fan of comic books, this was common to write words like boom and you just had to imagine the sound in your head. So were were conditioned to do this.

Jolie Hales:
Awesome, well then maybe I'll just throw that in when I'm editing this. Wait, you should say it, you've got the deep voice.

Ernest de Leon:
Boom Supersonic.

Jolie Hales:
Oh, that's so good. I think that needs to be a thing, I'm totally going to use that by the way.

Ernest de Leon:
Boom. [boom] Supersonic.

Jolie Hales:
If you're listening to this, you've probably heard of them or you're going to maybe want to look them up afterwards because they're pretty awesome. Their popularity has been steadily increasing and it's really no wonder why. I mean they're literally creating supersonic airplanes, which is pretty rad.

Ernest de Leon:
Right, and there's a lot of history there. Remember that the Concorde used to be a supersonic passenger aircraft that was eventually decommissioned because of issues, reliability and otherwise.

Jolie Hales:
Dude, that's totally the next page of the script.

Ernest de Leon:
I didn't read it at all.

Jolie Hales:
Shut up Ernest, stop being smart.

Ernest de Leon:
I didn't read it at all. That's funny.

Blake Scholl at BC20:
At Boom, we believe that life happens in person and that real face time beats FaceTime. And so our vision is to make the world dramatically more accessible by removing the barriers to travel, which are principally time, money and hassle. If we can chip away at those, we can build a world where more people can go more places more often, which is going to be a better planet for all of us to live on.

Jolie Hales:
Supersonic basically means faster than the speed of sound, or faster than Mach 1 which is approximately 768 miles per hour in average conditions at sea level. But Boom Supersonic isn't just aiming for 768 miles per hour. They are working toward creating a commercial aircraft that will fly around 75-ish passengers at Mach 2.2, or 1429 miles per hour, which kind of smashes the speed of sound. And since typical flights these days fly around 550 miles per hour, you can see how impressive 1429 miles per hour is in comparison.

Ernest de Leon:
Yeah, it would get me home in around an hour I think. I think as the crow flies, where I'm at to my home is around 1400 miles. Imagine like, "Oh, I need to go work in the city this week, so I'm just going to fly in in the morning and then fly home at night." That's amazing.

Jolie Hales:
Yeah, that'd be like your commute would take less time than most people's commute in the car in California.

Ernest de Leon:
Well yeah, because this is California. This is just one other way that supercomputing is changing the world.

Jolie Hales:
And one way out of so many ways that people don't even know about. So Blake and his team are definitely undercover superheroes, although with all the media attention that they've been getting lately, they're pretty much being unmasked.

Newsclip:
We have been following developments at Boom Supersonic for the last several years.

Newsclip:
Boom Supersonics will reveal the prototype of its supersonic jet that promises to bring back faster than sound passenger travel.

Newsclip:
We'll see what happens after they go through the test flights and they start manufacturing this supersonic jet.

Ernest de Leon:
Now it's my understanding that supersonic flight is not completely new, wasn't there an aircraft that was once used for this that had reliability issues?

Jolie Hales:
You mean the Concorde you mentioned earlier? That was very diplomatic and kind of you to bring it up in that way, even though you already knew that was coming. Thank you. Yes, so before I talk about the Concorde, so the first airplane to actually fly at supersonic speeds was a Bell X-1 rocket-powered research plane. As you probably know, it was piloted by Chuck Yeager.

Newsclip:
And he does it!  The first human to crack the sound barrier. This flight marks the first milestone in the supersonic chapter in the history of aviation.

Jolie Hales:
And breaking the sound barrier was a big deal, but it didn't mean that supersonic travel was possible on a commercial level until...

Ernest de Leon:
The Concorde.

Jolie Hales:
You should say "the Concorde" like you say "Boom Supersonic," in your radio low voice.

Ernest de Leon:
The Concorde.

Jolie Hales:
Although the development of the Concorde didn't exactly go as planned, and I'll tell you what that means after the break.

Ernest de Leon:
Just going to leave us hanging like that.

Jolie Hales:
Every time.

Jolie Hales:
From supersonic jets to personalized medicine, industry leaders are turning to Rescale to power science and engineering breakthroughs. Rescale is a full-stack automation solution for hybrid cloud that helps IT and HPC leaders deliver intelligent computing as a service and enables the enterprise transformation to digital R&D. As a proud sponsor of the Big Compute Podcast, Rescale would especially like to say thank you to all the scientist and engineers out there who are working to make a difference for all of us. Rescale, intelligent computing for digital R&D. Learn more at rescale.com/bcpodcast.

Jolie Hales:
So we were talking about the first supersonic commercial aircraft.

Ernest de Leon:
The Concorde.

Jolie Hales:
I love that. So the Concorde was a supersonic jet that was actually built as a joint venture between the French and British governments in the 1960s, and it was sort of a way to show that Western technology was better than Soviet technology at the time. And it took its first flight in 1969 and then its first supersonic transatlantic flight in 1973, and then it started regular passenger service in 1976, which continued all the way through 2003, which I didn't actually realize it was that recent that it stopped flying.

Ernest de Leon:
Yeah I remember seeing an article about them decommissioning it finally.

Newsclip:
Just after 1:00, Concorde's final landing.

Jolie Hales:
And as far as speed goes, it had a maximum speed of Mach 2.04, or 1,354 miles per hour and it seated around 100 passengers, I believe. And while the Concorde was pretty amazing, obviously, it was a gas guzzler and when you consider inflation, a round trip ticket for a flight from New York to London on the Concorde today would cost you around, get this, 20 thousand dollars.

Ernest de Leon:
That is a lot for a standard passenger aircraft.

Jolie Hales:
And this is crazy, so you mentioned it had some troubles, the Concorde, you were completely right. Apparently when the project was proposed it originally estimated that the Concorde was going to cost around 70 million dollars to develop, but then it actually ended up costing 1.3 billion dollars which is almost 1,800% more expensive than originally estimated.

Newsclip:
A year late, millions of pounds over the estimated cost, and still a very big question mark. These are Concorde's first claims to fame.

Jolie Hales:
And Concorde was so late and expensive because it was developed before computational simulation on this kind of a scale was anywhere close to practical. So it had to be tested in physical wind tunnels where every single iteration, so every little change in design, cost literally millions of dollars and took months. So as you can imagine, there were a lot of delays.

Ernest de Leon:
But now, with high performance computing, a lot of that development can be done quickly through computational simulation.

Jolie Hales:
Right. Now there are all kinds of phenomenal simulation softwares that can closely duplicate real life elemental testing like physics or materials, temperature, fluids, vibration, pretty much everything you need to test for while developing just about any product out there, including supersonic airplanes. And when you combine the ability to run these simulations with high performance computing that can power all this research in the snap of a finger, depending on how many cores you use, it's no wonder so many amazing products have been developed in the last couple decades. And that's what's allowing technology like Boom Supersonic's aircraft design to progress at incredible speeds without spending millions of dollars per iteration.

Blake Scholl at BC20:
We've changed virtually everything about how we design and build aircraft. From an aerodynamic perspective, we've gone from developing in wind tunnels where every iteration takes months and costs millions of dollars, to be able to do things in computer simulation where you can test more iterations and arrive at a more refined, more efficient design. We have new materials, we've gone from principally aluminum to carbon fiber composites, which means you can build a strong, lightweight structure that can better withstands the stresses and temperatures of high speed flight. Propulsion has completely changed. As you may know if you're an airplane geek, Concorde was the only passenger airliner ever to fly around with afterburners. And if you're an airplane nerd like I am, afterburners are cool. They're rip roaring loud, there's a flame coming out the back of the engine, you can't miss them when they fly over. But if you're an airline or a passenger, you maybe don't love those because they're loud, they bother people on the ground, the flame is kind of scary, and most important, they're incredibly fuel inefficient. And so today we have totally new kinds of engines called turbo fans that are quieter and more efficient.

Jolie Hales:
And commercial supersonic travel is especially important if you're someone who travels a lot because it can literally cut the length of your trip in half, which means that an international round trip for a business meeting, once we're able to have those again, might be able to take place within a single day, giving you much more time to spend with your family. And to me, that's why this kind of technology is so important.

Ernest de Leon:
Yep, that's what it's all about.

Blake Scholl at BC20:
We've gone from being able to design on drafting paper to being able to do all kinds of design and CAD and then simulation allowing us to test our designs faster to iterate faster and arrive at a more efficient aircraft. So at Boom we're putting all that together to build a new, more efficient, most affordable ever supersonic airliner. And I feel very lucky to have fallen in love with this problem at a time when you can actually do something about it. Not only has the technology advanced since Concorde, but the market has also grown. Since Concorde retired in 2001, there's actually been a doubling in international air travel. And what that means is there are 65 million passengers per year flying on routes in business class where we can offer them nearly a doubling in speed. That turns into a 200 billion dollar opportunity for Boom, which means despite the capital intensity of this effort, there's a great return for investors there and we're actually able to build a business. So at the intersection of proven technology, proven market, supersonic travel is truly inevitable and it's only a matter of time.

Jolie Hales:
So to safely create a commercial supersonic jet, Blake and his team at Boom Supersonic have developed a smaller version of the aircraft to test first, and that aircraft which was physically rolled out just a few months ago is called

Blake Scholl at BC20:
XB-1.

Jolie Hales:
And can I just say, this is a total side note, but from a filmmaker's perspective, their XB-1 rollout video was incredibly well produced. It was like the kind of video that I watch and think, "Dang, I wish I had made this." So if you haven't seen it and you're listening to us now, it's worth going online, taking a look, boomsupersonic.com plug for these awesome people. But anyway, the airplane is even cooler than the video.

Blake Scholl at BC20:
Now how do we know this is all going to work? Well it's about testing, digitally and in physical hardware. One of the first things we built was a flight simulator, and this takes not just wind tunnel data but a tremendous amount of output from simulation. We've done about 66 million core hours of computing, mainly through Rescale--

Jolie Hales:
Shameless sponsor plug.

Blake Scholl at BC20:
--since we started the design effort on XB-1. And if you ask yourself what that would look like in wind tunnel testing, it would be financially and time wise just absolutely impractical. We've been able to test hundreds of iterations of aircraft designs, which you just could not do with wind tunnels. We've gone to the wind tunnel just three times for XB-1 to get calibration data, to confirm that we're calibrated in CFD, and then to get a final sign off of the exact design that we're shipping.

Blake Scholl at BC20:
We've also done engine testing. So XB-1 uses off the shelf, general electric engines, and we've been able to take them down to the US Air Force Academy just about 45 minutes South of our office and get them running to full power. And we're really proud that we're able to do this on sustainable biofuels. So supersonic aviation is not just going to save you time, it's also going to be good for the planet.

Jolie Hales:
And while XB-1 looks friggin' awesome, it's just a step towards Boom's primary goal, which is to create this 75-ish seat commercial supersonic jet they're calling Overture.

Blake Scholl at BC20:
When you look back in history, it's easy to underappreciate how much aviation has done for the planet. Isn't it interesting that we haven't had a world war since the dawn of the jet age? When you reduce travel times, people go more places more often. There was a six fold increase, for example, in travel in the first 10 years of the jet age to places like Hawaii that were previously inaccessible. And we think that Overture will kick off a similar growth in air travel, a similar increasing of accessibility of Earth. We want to live in a world where our children have not just read about places like Cape Town and Tokyo and Mumbai in a textbook but have actually been there. Imagine what it's like when everyone has experienced the wonderful people, places and cultures our planet has to offer. And Overture is the first in this series of aircraft. We're going to continue to build them larger, more efficient, quieter and more environmentally friendly, and I think in our lifetimes we will see a world where every flight over about a thousand miles is supersonic.

Jolie Hales:
And Blake believes that flights on Overture will be available in the year 2030, which might feel kind of far away, but that's actually pretty soon considering the task ahead of them. And if you take a look at the Overture renders, not only are Blake and his team raising the bar in flight technology, but they're raising the bar on the whole flight experience. To be honest, parts of flying, especially if you're in economy, can feel like a little bit of a demoralizing experience because you give up all control and you give up personal space at the same time and then you're just hoping that your personal belongings don't end up going to Guam or something without you. And then more and more seats these days are being packed into smaller spaces so there's less leg room. And nowadays, you also have to have like a 26-hour flight to get any kind of meal on board a flight in economy. It's just so much different than it was when I was a kid.

Ernest de Leon:
Absolutely. Even six hours or four hours in a cramped situation can be pretty bad.

Jolie Hales:
It can be rough and feel a little demoralizing, I think. Of course, I say that and honestly I should probably check myself and stop whining if I really take a step back, because even if the entire experience of flying economy is somewhat unideal, I have to remember that I'm literally boarding a giant metal machine that flies through the sky and that it gets me to the destination I need to go to in this incredible timing. I'm sure that my pioneer ancestors who trekked across the country in ox-pulled wagons would probably be happy to trade a bumpy ride behind the butt of a couple animals for an armrest free middle seat of a modern airplane.

Ernest de Leon:
I don't know if that's true.

Jolie Hales:
You don't think so? You'd rather ride behind an ox butt?

Ernest de Leon:
I don't know if I'd rather ride behind an ox butt, but I just don't see those people being comfortable on an airplane regardless of the situation. They'd probably think it was some kind of evil magic or like a metal bird, you know what I mean? Because they have no idea, they have no concept of what this is.

Blake Scholl at BC20:
There's a no compromises passion to experience onboard Overture as well. So we're starting from a blank sheet of paper, re-envisioning not just the airplane, but also what it will be like from the moment you walk onto the aircraft to the moment you step off. So we're building a nice comfortable seat, plenty of room to spread out and relax, do work, and my personal favorite feature is a cup holder that's nowhere close to where you put your laptop.

Jolie Hales:
So if you look at Overture's renders, each passenger seat has its own personal space. So there's no fighting over armrests and everybody gets the window and everybody has leg room and I'm sure that a ticket will probably cost more than a seat on Southwest, but maybe Boom Supersonic will be able to change how flight is done for the masses too, like over the long run. I've got my fingers crossed that maybe Boom Supersonic will become the supersonic version of Boeing or something and that this technology will just continue to spread over the Earth until it becomes the new normal.

Ernest de Leon:
Yeah, I mean it's all about the economics. So if they're fitting 75 people in this aircraft and Southwest is fitting 130-ish, I forget exactly the number, but almost three times that. Pound for pound, the cost would be roughly 2.5 to three times a Southwest seat. But if Boom can go significantly faster than a Southwest plane using less fuel, you could do more flights at less cost and then maybe you can get it down to like 1.5 or 2 times the cost of the Southwest seat.

Jolie Hales:
And then to go beyond that, the 75-seater is really kind of their first passenger airplane, so maybe it could expand in size even beyond that. So I think there's just a lot of opportunity for Boom Supersonic to really do something cool here. And so it seems the world now is really watching Boom Supersonic so that we can see how this goes. In 2030, that airplane might be in the sky. And so far, things have been going really well and I think they're going to do what they set out to do, and that could really change the world.

Ernest de Leon:
Wholeheartedly agree. Also, I have seen the renders, and to me everything looks great. The only question is going to be the cost per seat in a commercial flight context, and I think that using innovative technology to lower the cost of development, lower the overall cost of manufacturing of the aircraft, get the best possible fuel economy out of it, will make that number more and more attractive to airlines to offer as a commercial service. So I'm really hoping they succeed for my own benefit.

Jolie Hales:
I know, for selfish reasons, that's how I am, too.

Ernest de Leon:
For selfish reasons, yeah.

Jolie Hales:
I'm like, "They're going to change the world, meaning I might be able to get to Europe in a few hours."

Ernest de Leon:
Could you imagine getting to London in like an hour?

Jolie Hales:
That'd be awesome.

Ernest de Leon:
The technology is going to definitely change the world, but man if they hit the right economic balance, they will change an entire industry.

Jolie Hales:
And I've got to say, as far as thought leadership goes, the energy in the room when Blake was talking at the Big Computer conference was really exciting and you could really feel this cool vibe in the room. And that's something that I do miss from being in person at these conference, so I'm really looking forward to seeing that again. But it was just cool to see how people were hanging on his every word.

Ernest de Leon:
Maybe he can give us an update at the next one and a seat on one of the inaugural flights.

Jolie Hales:
Yes, please Blake! Maybe not the first flight,.I'll go on, like, the second.

Ernest de Leon:
The second one.

Jolie Hales:
So for our listeners, Blake Scholl's full talk is available on bigcompute.org, if anyone wants to watch it, along with some links that we'll post to topics that we've mentioned on our episode notes page. So some of those ridiculous Clifford videos we'll also include there. And -- kind of interesting -- the Big Compute Podcast actually did a 20-minute interview with Boom Supersonic, actually interviews co-founder Josh Krall way back in episode three. So before Ernest and I had any knowledge that this podcast even existed, Boom Supersonic was a guest on this podcast. So, really interesting interview, worth listening to if you want to hear more about the background of this awesome company.

Ernest de Leon:
We've got a lot of great content coming up on the podcast and website, including some talk on the solar winds hack. We've also got some heartwarming stories about how super computing is literally saving children's lives.

Jolie Hales:
I'm so excited for that one, it is the coolest story. And of course, if you want to help spread the word about the Big Compute Podcast, you can write us a review or tell a friend or do both. Our community is quickly growing and it's really cool to be a part of that. Thank you to everyone out there.

Ernest de Leon:
That's going to do it for this episode of the Big Compute Podcast, until next time.

Jolie Hales:
Stay safe.