Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC

Fractional ownership pioneer Executive Jet (EJI) has joined Lockheed Martin and Gulfstream in pressing NASA to fund an X-series research aircraft that could form the basis of a supersonic business jet (SSBJ).

They are trying to rescue enough funding from NASA's cancelled High Speed Research (HSR) programme to build a proof-of-concept aircraft similar in size to the SSBJ that the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is studying with Gulfstream.

Talks with NASA administrator Dan Goldin have included "our first customer", says LM Aeronautics sector president Micky Blackwell. Insiders confirm the customer referred to is EJI, which operates the NetJets fractional ownership programme.

Executive Jet chairman and NetJets creator Richard Santulli has been a vocal supporter of Dassault's now-dormant Falcon SST project. An internal study concluded there is a market for 50 SSBJs in NetJets fractional ownership service, provided the aircraft can be operated supersonically over land.

Blackwell says the Skunk Works believes it can adapt its stealth technology to minimise sonic boom, by shaping the aircraft to prevent the shockwaves coalescing. However, supersonic flight over land by civil aircraft is illegal in the USA. "We have some work to do on that," he admits.

NASA abandoned its HSR effort earlier this year after Boeing decided there was no near-term market for a high-speed civil transport. Boeing remains interested in building a demonstrator, but is concerned that an X-plane based on an eight-seat, M1.8 business jet design will not prove the technologies needed for a 300-seat, Mach 2.4 airliner, says John Roundhill, Commercial Airplanes Group vice-president, product strategy and development.

Gulfstream teamed with Lockheed Martin Skunk Works last year to study the technical and market feasibility of an SSBJ with a Gulfstream V-size cabin and range of around 9,000km (5,000nm). Dassault halted work on its Falcon SST earlier this year after failing to find a suitable engine. The aircraft under study had a Falcon 50-sized cabin and 9,000km range. o

Source: Flight International