Supersonic travel – a reality once again?

12 Dec 2007 by Mark Caswell
AerionIf all goes according to plan we could soon be crossing the Atlantic supersonically for the first time since Concorde retired in 2003. US engineering firm Aerion wants to develop a supersonic business jet capable of carrying between eight and 12 passengers at speeds of up to Mach 1.6. Brian Barents, vice-chairman of Aerion, says: “The market tells us it wants and needs supersonic transport. Such a plane isn’t a luxury. It’s an efficient tool to make senior executives more productive.” At the recent Dubai Airshow, Aerion says it received letters of intent for the US$80 million jet from 20 customers. These range from corporations to wealthy individuals. Aerion declines to name them although the firm didn’t deny that one customer is Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi of Ajman in the UAE. The jet would have a range of 6,437km, which would enable it to connect major cities in Europe with those on the US east coast, cutting hours off the schedule. Barents says: “The plane could fly Paris-New York in four hours 14 minutes, which provides a time saving of 40 per cent. It could do Paris-Tokyo in seven hours 35 minutes, which is a three-hour saving even when you include a one-hour stopover on the ground. “It could also fly non-stop between Europe and the Gulf. But the plane won’t have the range for key business routes across the Pacific linking the US with mainland China. A Los Angeles to Shanghai flight would need to take the ‘great circle’ route [because the trip is largely over water] which would mean a refuelling stop in the Aleutians.” Aerion has deliberately opted for a simple design to keep costs low and to allow for reliable operation. It’s also the reason why the top speed of Mach 1.6 is less than Concorde’s Mach 2 based around Sixties technology. Barents says: “We want to certify the plane so it can be used under today’s rules, which would allow us to fly at a lower speed of Mach 1.15 over ground without creating a boom. [Aerion says that a supersonic boom dissipates at 1,524 metres and can depend on temperature.] Today there are areas of northern Canada, Russia (Siberia), mainland China and Australia where it’s permissible to fly supersonically overland. “To fly non-stop between the US west coast and mainland China you would need a plane with a 9,656km range. But that would result in different technology and a larger plane [which would push up cost and complexity]. The most advanced feature of our plane is its Laminar wing concept. It’s 50 per cent more efficient than a conventional wing yet enables our plane to land at a slower speed and use smaller airports with short 1,829 metre runways.” Barents believes there’s a market for 300 of the jets over the next 10 years. The firm believes the design could be the beginning of a family of supersonic aircraft which would be “scaleable up or down”. The development costs are thought to be US$2.3 billion. Aerion is looking to finalise a deal with a manufacturing partner by the end of next year. If all goes well, Barents says: “The first flight could be in 2012 with certification and delivery to the customer in 2014.” Sales for Aerion’s proposed jet are being handled in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Australia by Swiss-based Execujet. For more information visit, Report by Alex McWhirter
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