If there was ever a phrase that burst upon the world in a moment, this is it. I can find no reference to it before the end of March 2001, but by the middle of May there were hundreds of news reports on file that included it. It’s the name that Boeing have given to their new small subsonic passenger plane, of a radically different design to previous models, which is expected to fly at just under the speed of sound and at higher altitudes than current airliners. The firm outlined its plans for the new plane after admitting it had given up attempts to create a wide-bodied version of its 747, with 520 seats, in competition with the Airbus A380. Interestingly, the name is given in lower case in internal Boeing references, which suggests that it will probably only be temporary, perhaps replaced by something really exciting, like Boeing 797, even if it ever gets built, which many industry watchers are sceptical about.
By flying much faster, just below the sound barrier, and at higher altitudes than today’s planes do, Mulally said the Sonic Cruiser would save an hour and a half on a North Atlantic route and two and a half hours across the Pacific.
Forbes Magazine, May 2001
Virgin Atlantic today became the first airline to sign up publicly for Boeing’s Sonic Cruiser despite the proposed new aircraft being still firmly on the drawing board.
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, May 2001