Jaxa, Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency is showing visitors a glimpse of the future with a scale model of its Silent Supersonic Technology Demonstration (S3TD) programme aircraft.
The S3TD is an experimental demonstrator looking at the technologies that will be needed for any future supersonic successor to Concorde. JAXA’s goal is to produce an environmentally-friendly aircraft that has a quieter sonic boom and a high lift-to-drag ratio at its Mach 2 cruising speed. It is also aiming at a 12% weight reduction compared with Concorde and an overall noise reduction of 3db using noise shielding.
The project is currently at the design stage, having gone through an extensive feasibility study. Flight tests are likely to take place in 2012 or 2013.
The demonstrator will be unmanned and will make use of composite materials throughout. S3TD will fly under “full autonomous flight control”, steering automatically. JAXA completed similar flight tests in 2005 using a scaled experimental supersonic transport (SST) at Woomera test range in Australia.
An earlier 2002 test ended in failure after the demonstrator spiralled out of control, hit the ground and exploded. The crash was later blamed on a computer problem.
In that experiment, the aircraft was launched by rocket and used parachutes and airbags for landing. In the S3TD tests, the aircraft will take off, manoeuvre, and land automatically to prove full autonomous flight control technology.
Jaxa is convinced that this century will eventually become the age of the supersonic passenger aircraft. Its solution could pave the way, solving the problem of Concorde’s sonic boom, which restricted its use to routes over oceans. Concorde also emitted high level of emissions, including NOx – though its Olympus engines were based on 1950s technology. Efforts to reduce engine emissions have become even more front of mind over the past few years.