NBAA 2006: Manufacturer priorities slow speed of supersonic dream

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Supersonic business jets (SSBJ) are struggling to reach manufacturers' product lists before the middle of the next decade. Although SSBJ designer Aerion says it is having "substantive discussions" with manufacturers, potential partners like Dassault say they have other priorities.

© Aerion
Aerion is hopeful for SSBJ
Meanwhile Gulfstream, the only manufacturer openly conducting technology development for a supersonic business jet, still believes it will require the flight demonstration of a low-boom aircraft to convince regulators to relax restrictions on supersonic flight over land. The company is looking into the possibility of building a demonstrator, and has the resources, says senior vice-president programmes, engineering and test Pres Henne.

Aerion is trying to put together an industrial consortium to develop its Mach 1.6 SSBJ, and chief executive Brian Barents says the company has had "promising" talks with aircraft manufacturers and first-tier suppliers. "But in a robust industry, when business is very good, a lot of companies have established long-term product plans, which are hard to drop to participate in another programme. We have to fit in with their existing priorities."

Barents says Aerion is still hopeful of announcing a consortium by mid-2007. Meanwhile, the Reno, Nevada-based company "continues to push the aircraft down the preliminary design path to a well-formed, low-risk configuration for discussions", says chief operating officer Mike Henderson. Aerion is conducting sled tests to validate the supersonic laminar flow predictions on which performance estimates are based, but has hit an instrumentation problem, so it is looking at the possibility of tests in the European Transonic Windtunnel or in flight on a NASA Boeing F-15.

Validating the extent of laminar flow is key to achieving the 7,400km (4,000nm)-range goal, as Aerion's SSBJ is not a low-boom design and would fly subsonically over land. Flight tests on an F-15 would not get the full-scale data desired, but would get Aerion to within 370km (200nm) of its range target, says Henderson.