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Missing ingredients retard supersonic jet setters

Would-be supersonic business jet makers continue to advance their designs while awaiting certain key ingredients despite indicators that the executive market is ready for higher speed aircraft.

Start-up manufacturer Aerion reports that it has taken nearly 40 letters of intent for its 12-seat M1.6 twinjet, up from the 20 reported in December, increasing the order backlog to more than $3 billion. The company is taking $250,000 refundable deposits through sales agents ExecuJet and Aero Toy Store.

 © Aerion

Holding up the Nevada-based company, however, is an agreement with an established original equipment manufacturer to build the aircraft. The $80 million Aerion SBJ, unveiled in 2004, features a supersonic laminar flow wing, stand-up cabin, range of more than 7,400km (4,000nm) and maximum altitude of 51,000ft (15,550m).

Pratt & Whitney will supply a modernised version of its JT8D engine to power the aircraft. Aerion plans to fly at near-supersonic speeds over the USA, where supersonic flight is not allowed.

Aerion says the robust state of the industry in terms of active development programmes has slowed progress in securing an OEM, but it says discussions are ongoing and an announcement could come by the end of this year. The company has said that it could perform a first flight by 2012 and certificate the aircraft by 2014.

Supersonic Aerospace International (SAI), developer of the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works-designed Quiet Supersonic Transport (QSST), is currently trying to raise $65 million in capital to move forward with its preliminary design, in addition to finding an OEM to build the eight- to 12-passenger M1.6-1.8 twinjet.

SAI founder Allen Paulson says SAI will not take orders for the low-boom design despite having "several groups contact us" about orders for the aircraft, which is priced at $80 million before completions. "We're going to make sure we know who's going to build the aircraft before we take preliminary orders," he says. Once the team is assembled, Paulson says the company will be able to "see the real cost for building the aircraft".

Las Vegas-based SAI says the first flight will be possible in late 2012 or early 2013, with certification in 2015 using three flight-test aircraft. In that scenario, deliveries would start by mid-2015. "If we get a major source of funding, we think we can accelerate the schedule by six to 12 months," says Paulson. "One key element will be the new engines we're going to use," he adds.

SAI is discussing the powerplant with Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce and General Electric, but has not chosen a supplier. "All have designs that work," says Paulson.

Most conservative of the OEMs is Gulfstream. "Gulfstream continues to undertake basic research in sonic boom suppression," the Savannah, Georgia-based company told Flight International in a prepared statement.

"It is Gulfstream's considered opinion that until or unless there are changes in the regulations prohibiting supersonic flight over land there is no business case for a supersonic business jet."

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