Boeing vice-president Walt Gillette is a modern day H G Wells, only his time machine is the company's Sonic Cruiser – an aircraft that Gillette says will give passengers what they really want.

"Air travel is a want, not a need," he says. "The only reason people fly is to save time; otherwise they would go by ship or road.

"If that is true, then people want the best time machine around and the Sonic Cruiser is just that," Gillette says.

Gillette is at Farnborough to update the industry on the Sonic Cruiser project. Hundreds of changes have now been made to the original design, which is changing, on average, every six weeks.

A number of strategic technology partners have been appointed including Boeing Wichita; Vought in Dallas, USA; Alenia; HMI, Kawasaki, Fuji, and Mitsubishi in Japan; and Hawker de Haviland in Australia.

Boeing is also partnering with the University of Sheffield in the UK on high-speed machining technology, and the University of Madrid in Spain will help with fuel cell research. It is hoped that fuel cells using hydrogen derived from jet fuel may replace the APU in Sonic Cruiser.


"We're making these partnerships to access the best technology in the world," says Gillette. "We are working hard to build a working team."

Boeing has also started wind tunnel testing with QinetiQ, based at Farnborough. Calibration tests have been completed and the latest Sonic Cruiser model, complete with design changes, will be loaded into the tunnel soon.

But the wind tunnel should only confirm what Gillette already knows. "We are using very accurate computational fluid dynamic models that tell us all we need to know before we even start to make models," he says.

"We know that Sonic Cruiser will be as fuel efficient as a 747; that it will be quieter than a 747 on take-off and landing; and that it will have lower NOX emissions.

"We also know that it will be certified to an MMO (Maximum Mach Number) of around Mach 1.04," he says. "The physics says it will be transsonic, but no sonic boom will be heard on the ground at these speeds due to the atmosphere's thermal profile," Gillette says, although it will actually cruise at Mach 0.96-0.98 for fuel efficiency.


Boeing is continuing with its programme of customer research – talking to airlines individually to make sure one opinion doesn't sway another.

But will it fly? "We're spending serious money on the project," says Gillette. "I've been in this business for 36 years and have only seen two dozen new commercial jets in that time – 10 of them by Boeing.

"We are giving it every possible chance to fly, but ultimately the market will decide if it wants Sonic Cruiser."

Source: Flight Daily News