Exosonic Plans Success by Lowering the Boom on Supersonic Transport

Norris Tie of Exosonic says his company wants to improve supersonic travel by lowering the boom.

Exosonic, the company he co-founded with chief technology officer Tim MacDonald has big plans but fully realizes the challenges in adapting travel to a supersonic world.

“Our distinction is we’re developing a low-boom supersonic transport,” said Tie, the chief executive of Exosonic which plans to move to the South Bay but for now is fully remote. Tie said the area’s rich and plentiful history in aviation was attractive to he and his co-founder.

Norris Tie, CEO of Exosonic - Courtesy
Norris Tie, CEO of Exosonic – Courtesy

“What we mean by low boom is we still fly at supersonic speeds but when we generate a shock wave, instead of a thunderous clap that shakes buildings it’s more like a soft thump,” Tie said. “It harkens back to the 1950s or the ‘70s when Concorde was entering service and airlines were getting a bunch of orders. They were trying to figure out how significant is the sonic boom.”

Tie grew up in Silicon Valley. But aviation and aerospace caught his interest early on.

“What NASA has been doing for the last couple of decades is developing the theory to understand if you can shape a sonic boom,” he said. “Now they’re taking that technology and applying it to the X-59. It’s  the culmination of research that NASA and other agencies are doing and designing a new vehicle, with low boom being the primary objective.”

Exosonic wants to understand the data NASA and FAA are collecting to create their work.

“We want to take advantage of that technology and fly supersonic over land for the first time ever for civilians,” Tie said. “It’s complex. There are a number of reasons the Concorde failed. They had 14 aircraft that can only fly across the Atlantic Ocean. It’s like owning a Rolls Royce; good luck maintaining it. If you can develop hundreds of aircraft it’s more economical, you can operate more places and develop the infrastructure of support. The Concorde, because regulations only permitted supersonic over-water flight, was severely limited in its routes.”

Our vision is to become the aircraft manufacturer that provides supersonic low boom airplanes to the public. We’re at the beginning stages. First thing was we said ‘Let’s go through the engineering and see if its commercially viable.’ Then we have to talk to the airline customers and be engaged with the regulators to make sure our aircraft can fly not only in the U.S., but around the world.”

Tie said he has dreamed of creating this opportunity since childhood.

“I’ve always loved aviation and aerospace,” he said. “Being an air traveler like anyone else — we’ve all be in cabins for 12 hours to visit relatives or for business — no one wants to be there that long. The objective is to get from point A to point B quickly.

“In childhood I didn’t believe we were going to fly 12 hours forever,” Tie said. “At that time I didn’t know of anyone working on that problem. Then I thought ‘Why don’t I do something about it?'”

Tie always had a love for flying and airplanes so it was a natural fit.

“Since I love aviation and airplanes, I thought ‘Why don’t I do something that can change the world?”

He certainly had an interesting path along the way. 

He went to UCLA and studied aerospace engineering and worked in the South Bay at Northrop Grumman and in Antelope Valley for Virgin Galactic and Lockheed-Martin.

“I wanted to learn how to develop fast vehicles and I needed to learn the technical solutions to make that happen to achieve my own dream,” he said. “It wasn’t until I worked on the X-59 that I realized muting the sonic boom to fly over land would be the ultimate achievement.”

Read about the NASA x-59 

NASA X-59 by Lockheed Martin - Courtesy LM
NASA’s X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology X-plane, or QueSST, is designed to fly faster than the speed of sound, without producing a loud, disruptive sonic boom. Instead, with the X-59, people on the ground will hear nothing more than a quiet sonic thump – Photo by Lockheed Martin

Norris Tie:  Propulsion Engineer and MBA

“I have a background in propulsion and I was a propulsion engineer for Lockheed, which is the contractor that makes the plane for NASA,” Tie said. “Essentially it was my last job before going to business school. I thought I would go to business school to develop the skills I would need to start my own business.

Tim MacDonald, CTO of Exosonic – Courtesy

“So I went back to the Bay Area to Stanford to get my MBA and start a company that would build the solution of my childhood,” he said. “There I met Tim my co-founder and we’ve been working unofficially for three years on this product.”

He said like any challenge, developing a supersonic transport over land with low boom would require a stepping stone approach.

Tie said he was fortunate to rely on relationships built during school.

Being in the school environment was helpful because we leveraged the network and mentors,” he said. “Some of the exploration was going to conferences and speaking to them and getting feedback. Secondly, Tim has a PhD from Stanford in Aero Astro so he was working on aircraft design while we were both in school.

“I built my own network of mentors and advisers,” Tie said. “At Lockheed Martin, I met people helpful in growing my mentor base, and we still talk to them regularly.  We bridge the knowledge gap by finding people who are industry veterans who guide our engineering design and learn from their path,” he said.

Tie said the Exosonic SST could be used for executive transportation, including people in high places in government as well as civilians. Last August, Exosonic was awarded a U.S. Air Force contract to develop a low-boom supersonic executive transport aircraft  the U.S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center announced.

“In terms of the big picture, we have a monumental task ahead,” he said “We estimate that by the mid 2030s we will get into service,” he said. “We need to demonstrate to everyone that we can develop a supersonic airplane that achieves low-boom. So how do we do this in a cost-efficient manner? We develop a low-boom supersonic airplane that probably has military applications and that could finance further development.”

If there were three wishes what would Tie request?

“What does any startup want?” he asked. “A number of things. Of course, cash. We would love for someone who is passionate who believes in what we’re doing to invest. Second is getting an engine company to work with us on developing a supersonic engine would be helpful. Engine development is such a unique and specialized space, we would want to leverage that. The third piece is regulation. We need to get an aircraft that is certifiable.”

As with most companies today, for Exosonic, preserving the environment is a top priority.

“One thing we concern ourselves with is greenhouse gas emissions and we need to figure out a solution, perhaps carbon-neutral fuel,” he said. “Seems like that’s the most advanced solution.”

Tie said selecting employees from the local talent pool makes headquartering in LA a benefit.

“We’re hiring slowly and we’re excited to be engaged with the Los Angeles community here,” Tie said.  “We hope it will continue to support us.”

Read more about Exosonic at the company website.