Lockheed Martin has partnered with Aerion to launch a year-long feasibility study of a new configuration of the supersonic AS2 business jet featuring three high-bypass GE Aviation engines, the companies announced on 15 December.
The collaboration could lead a production go-ahead for Aerion’s 14-year-old quest to develop a commercial, 12-seat supersonic aircraft.
The new partnership replaces Aerion’s former collaborator, Airbus Defence and Space, as the lead candidate to manufacture the AS2, says Aerion executive chairman Brian Barents. Lockheed will perform a producibility study, and an evaluation of potential final assembly sites, with the company’s plant in Marietta, Georgia, as a candidate, says Orlando Carvalho, executive vice-president for Lockheed’s aeronautics unit.
But the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the three partners — Aerion, Lockheed and GE — puts the project on track to fly the first test aircraft in 2023 and enter service two years later, Barents says.
“We strongly believe that speed is the next frontier in aviation,” he adds.
A new configuration of the AS2 features a T-tail and a natural laminar flow wing with a higher-aspect ratio than previous concepts of the aircraft. The engines are also moved from the trailing edge of the wing to the leading edge, as a result of a design collaboration since last May between GE and Aerion.
The MOU signing comes after GE has completed the final configuration for the AS2’s three engines, says Brad Mottier, vice-president and general manager for GE’s business and general aviation and integrated systems division.
The configuration includes a core adapted from a commercial turbofan with “billions” of hours of operational service, he says, which suggest GE’s high-pressure section for the CFM International CFM56.
The high-pressure section will be mated to a new low-pressure module optimismed for supersonic speed, Mottier says.
Although the configuration is decided, GE is still working to complete the initial design of the new engine. A key challenge will be managing the high inlet temperatures of the supersonic engine at high-altitudes, Mottier says.
The aircraft is designed to reach a top cruising speed of Mach 1.4, taking several hours off a Pacific crossing.
But Aerion operators must comply with the US Federal Aviation Administration’s ban on all supersonic flight by commercial aircraft, Barents says. The European Aviation Safety Agency prohibits the perception of a supersonic boom, which, Barents claims, means the AS2 could operate over Europe at speeds up to Mach 1.2, where the Mach cut-off effect under certain conditions dissipates the boom noise before it reaches the ground.