Aerion is determined to prevent the industry slowdown from putting the brakes on its supersonic ambitions as it kicks of a fresh round of laminar flow flight tests in conjunction with NASA.
Clouding the horizon, however, is uncertainty over the ongoing availability of Pratt & Whitney JT8D-200 power plants for Aerion's proposed supersonic business jet (SBJ), as military budget cuts threaten a project to re-engine the US Air Force's JSTARS surveillance aircraft.
"The big news is that Aerion is alive and well and pushing forward with our plans, both on the commercial side and on the technology development and testing side," says Aerion chief operating officer Douglas Nichols.
"The OEMs are not as robust as they were feeling in 2008 but they're starting to recover their strength, and the more confidence they have in the future of the industry, the more confident they're going to be to start to accelerate the investments necessary to bring our aircraft to the market."
For the first time at NBAA Aerion is talking up prospects for deploying its technology in a new generation of transonic jets that could not only match the M0.92-plus offered by the CitationTen and Gulfstream G650, but do so far more efficiently and at speeds of up to M0.99.
"We're primarily focused on the supersonic business jet, but many of the OEMs are displaying increasing interest in the application of Aerion technology to transonic aircraft," says Nichols. "Our technology is very scalable, both down and up, and so there's substantial interest in the application of relatively low-sweep, thin wings to aircraft that aren't quite as speedy as our SBJ is envisioned to be."
The JT8D-equipped SBJ would fly at M1.6, carrying 8-12 passengers. It would be produced by a partner OEM, with Aerion acting as technology provider.
With budget cuts threatening the future of the JT8D, Nichols says alternatives are available. However, its requirement for the bypass ratio to be in the 2-2.5 range means that military cores such as the P&W F100 and General Electric F110 are the most likely candidates.
"We are actively watching developments in engine technology, and there are a number of suitable cores that we think would provide the basis for a current technology engine that would be quite suitable for the SBJ," says Nichols. "There will be an engine available."