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Aerion to unveil supersonic plans

Start-up will detail proposal for high-speed jet at NBAA

US start-up Aerion will unveil plans for a supersonic business jet at next week's National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. Aerion, led by billionaire Robert Bass and former Learjet boss Brian Barents, declines to discuss its plans before NBAA, but the company is linked to Reno Aeronautical, a research firm working on drag-reducing supersonic laminar flow (SLF).

Reno, Arizona-based Aerion was formerly Asset Research, a company formed by Reno Aeronautical founder Dr Richard Tracy to find backers for development of a small supersonic business jet using SLF technology. That aircraft, called ASSET (affordable supersonic executive transport), was a 10-seat, 45,500kg (100,000lb)-class design with a Mach 1.5 cruise speed and a 11,000km (6,000nm) range.

The M1.5 cruise speed avoided the need for exotic high-temperature materials and allowed the use of existing engines. The aircraft was designed around a pair of modified Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 low-bypass turbofans capable of operating continuously at M1.5 without a reduction in overhaul life, and without complex noise suppressors, Tracy said in 2002.

Crucially, the aircraft was designed to cruise efficiently at high subsonic and transonic speeds over land, avoiding the need for the sonic boom reduction technology that is pacing development of supersonic business jets by other manufacturers.

Demonstrated in subscale flight tests on a NASA Boeing F-15 at speeds approaching M2, supersonic natural laminar flow can reduce supersonic drag by 50% and increase lift-to-drag ratio by 30% compared with a conventional delta wing, according to Reno Aeronautical.