Aerion refines business case for supersonic business jet after completing initial round of partner talks

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By Graham Warwick in Washington DC

Manufacturer plans wing test as it steps up pursuit of industrial partners

Supersonic business jet (SSBJ) designer Aerion has completed an initial round of meetings with potential manufacturing partners and is refining its business case for further discussions, including development cost, partnership structures and financial plan.

The effort is being led by former Bombardier Aerospace chief financial officer James Stewart, who has joined the Reno, Nevada-based company in the same role.

Aerion vice-chairman Brian Bar­ents says initial discussions with manufacturers "have elicited strong interest" in the design. Refinement of the business case to be presented in subsequent meetings includes examining the aircraft's "bill of materials" and development of a financial plan "to assure an attractive return on investment on the partnership", Barents says.

As part of efforts to secure industrial partners for development and production of its SSBJ, Aerion plans a rocket-sled test of its supersonic laminar-flow wing in August. The Mach 1.5 test, at Sandia National Laboratories near Albuquerque, New Mexico, is intended to validate the drag-reducing natural laminar flow design that is key to the SSBJ's ability to cruise efficiency at subsonic as well as supersonic speed, and so avoid sonic booms while flying over land.

Aerion's private backers, led by billionaire Robert Bass, are continuing to fund the programme until an industrial consortium can be assembled to launch development. Certification of the Mach 1.6 SSBJ is expected to take six years from launch. Rival SSBJ designer Supersonic Aerospace International is also aiming to secure industrial partners for the development and production of its Lockheed Martin Skunk Works-designed Quiet Supersonic Transport (QSST).

"Lockheed Martin is committed to being the design agent, and we are looking for venture capital," says Frank Capuccio, executive vice-president and general manager of advanced development programmes. The Skunk Works chief says the M1.6-1.8 QSST is being designed to use traditional materials so that it can be produced in any country with an aerospace industry, possibly as an industrial offset project. The QSST is designed to produce a shaped shockwave signature that reduces the sonic boom to a level that will allow supersonic flight over land.