What price speed? That – as much as technology or the lack of it – will determine if a supersonic business jet reaches the market. Several start-ups have unveiled concepts, led by Aerion, a 10-year veteran of the sector, though still to cut metal. Boom Technology and Spike Aerospace are promising scaled subsonic prototypes this year; Aerion to name an engine partner.
The pioneers’ holy grail has been a way to avoid or muffle the supersonic shockwave over land: the notorious boom that drowned out Concorde’s prospects.
Rolls-Royce, which co-developed Concorde’s Olympus engine more than half a century ago, has long been quietly studying proposals to power a business jet successor. However, the UK company admits a solution offering supersonic travel over ocean and sub-sonic speeds above continents is most realistic.
There are already fast business aircraft on the market, which convey their human cargo in comfort over vast distances at just under Mach 1. Even assuming a supersonic jet is feasible, such a development will only take place if engine and aircraft manufacturers alike are convinced that those who measure their success in minutes as much as money are prepared to pay a premium to win back more of their lives on the ground.
And unlike with Concorde, there will not be statist governments happy to fund a leap into a supersonic future. This time the risk will be industry’s alone.