The behavioural characteristics of thermal boundary layer inception dictate the efficiency of heat exchangers and the operational limits of fluid machinery. The specific time required by the thermal boundary layer to be established is vital to optimize flow control strategies, as well as the thermal management of systems exposed to ephemeral phenomena, typically on the millisecond scale. This paper presents the time characterization of the momentum and thermal boundary layer development in transient turbulent compressible air flows. We present a new framework to perform such estimations based on detailed unsteady Reynolds averaged Navier–Stokes simulations that may be extended to higher fidelity simulations. First of all, the aerodynamic boundary layer initiation is described using adiabatic simulations. Additional numerical calculations were then performed by setting the isothermal wall condition to evaluate the additional time required by the thermal boundary layer to establish after the aerodynamic boundary layer reaches its steady state. Finally, full conjugate simulations were executed to compute the warm up effect of the solid during the blowdown of a hot fluid over a colder metallic test model. The transient performance of the turbulent thermal and momentum boundary layers is quantified through numerical simulations of air blowdown over a flat plate for different mainstream flow conditions. The effects of Reynolds number, free stream velocity, transient duration, test article length and free stream temperature were independently assessed, to then define a mathematical expression of the momentum boundary layer settlement. This paper presents a novel numerical correlation of the additional time required by the thermal boundary layer to be stablished after the settlement of the momentum boundary layer. The time scales of the aerodynamic and thermal boundary layers are presented as a function of relevant non-dimensional numbers, as well as the description of the response of the near wall flow to sudden free stream changes. The characterization of the boundary layer mechanisms discussed in this paper contribute to the establishment of an evidence-based foundation for advances in the field of flow control.