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Aerospace startup developing a supersonic Air Force One

Exosonic CEO Norris Tie joins Yahoo Finance’s Zack Guzman to discuss how the start-up was issued a contract from the Air Force to create a supersonic executive transport that may be used as the next Air Force One.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: But there have been dreams out there of traveling even quicker. No one really likes staying in the air for that long. And it seems to be a dream that might be moving forward for whoever is the president, perhaps presidents to come here, as the Air Force is taking initial steps to begin prototyping a supersonic aircraft that could transport the president in about half the time.

Last month, we got the update that a contract was awarded to move forward, a phase two contract at Exosonic, a startup aerospace company that works on jets just like that, working on a low-boom aircraft concept here to transport the president. Very interesting. I guess it would be good, depending on what time-- or how that time's used.

Here to discuss that progress with us is the CEO of Exosonic Norris Tie joins us now. And Norris, I mean, talk to me about the tech that has to go into this to get Air Force One moving at double the speed its normal.

NORRIS TIE: Yeah, sounds good. So we've been building supersonic airplanes since the 1960s, so it's really no technology. But the change here is this low-boom technology. So the one thing about the Concorde is that it cannot fly supersonic over land, because the loud sonic booms that generated that can shake windows or buildings. And so NASA's been working on technology for 30 years. And it's finally reached a state of maturity, where we can actually shape this sonic boom and mute it, such that it's like a soft thump on the ground, and that's what we're incorporating into our aircraft.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, the Concorde's a good example to point back to because it made a lot of people angry with all that noise. But now that you're doing this, I mean, obviously, it seems like this would be the starting point. You get the contract. You work on the technology. Where do you look to use and leverage that experience in maybe building out Air Force One as a supersonic jet? And where does it go from there?

NORRIS TIE: Yeah. So actually, as part of this contract, we are building-- or designing our supersonic airliner first, right, because we need to get this airframe that actually fits commercial purposes as well. And then, similar to the existing Air Force One, which is a 747, we're going to modify our aircraft such that the interior, we remove all the commercial seats and put in what the president or other top US leaders want in that aircraft.

ZACK GUZMAN: Which makes it seem like-- I mean, even when we talk about retrofitting the Boeing 747 here for that, I mean, it seems tough because you've got to throw a lot in there since it is the president. We already talked about the armor that's additional to the limousine that carries him around here. But when you think about the plane, I mean, a million dollars sounds like a lot of money, but when we're talking about Air Force One and retrofitting a prototype here, what more needs to be added there in terms of the funds to get this from concept to actual vehicle to transport a president?

NORRIS TIE: Yeah, certainly, it's definitely kind of a long road ahead with a lot of money that still needs to go in. So for this contract, it's a study contract so we can understand, you know, what are the requirements that the president or other top US leaders would want in this aircraft? And there is the opportunity for follow-on contracts or a phase three that could be worth, you know, $10-plus million. And of course, we're also searching for venture capital to fund the development of this aircraft, the supersonic airliner version or any other military or government derivative version of the aircraft.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, it's an interesting, I guess, break from the trends that we've seen in terms of business travel not being out there. A lot of people staying at home. Virtual conferences here. What do you think that this technology might say to attract that in the future when we think about cutting travel times down by half?

NORRIS TIE: Yeah, for sure. So certainly right now is maybe not the best time to introduce it into service now, given low traffic numbers. But when we talk about entry into service, we're thinking about the mid '20, '30s. And by then, you know, the pandemic will be behind us. Air travel should hopefully have been rebounded by then, and we'll have a lot more travelers out there, including business and leisure.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, well, no much-- no higher-profile guest, I suppose, to fly around the world in half the time than the president of the United States. So we'll see what happens from there. Exosonic CEO Norris Tie, appreciate you taking the time, and good luck.

NORRIS TIE: And thanks, Zack.