The day approaches when new developments in supersonic flight and market demand come together to pave the way for supersonic business jets (SSBJs). Dave Higdon pieces together the evidence…
Recently, JETNET iQ managing director Rollie Vincent said that a “sizable and growing market” exists for SSBJs. “Each time we analyze this market segment, customer interest and overall demand have increased. Our projected demand is for three SSBJ deliveries per month.”
And already expectations are growing for the creation of SSBJ models:
- Nearly 75% of JETNET iQ survey respondents expect at least one SSBJ will make it through the certification process and enter service within 10 years;
- More than 70% expect speed to be next big advance in Business Aviation; and
- Nearly 33% said they would consider an SSBJ – if FAA regulations governing supersonic overland flight become less restrictive.
And there's the rub. Congress banned supersonic flight over the US more than 50 years ago. And since the retirement of Concorde in 2003 no one has flown commercial supersonic flights. Fortunately, technology seems to be tackling this regulatory hurdle – a hurdle higher than the technological bar to merely fly supersonic.
Supersonic, Without the Boom
Developers began work on making supersonic quieter years ago, with efforts from Gulfstream and others. Today, Aerion appears closest to hitting the mark. But other developers are hot on their tail surfaces.
Businessman Robert Bass helped launch development of the Aerion, now in its second iteration: The AS2, seating 8-12 passenger. Aerion's approach favors a wing and powerplant combination that can cruise about Mach 1.5 when needed (with a shape that creates minimal boom potential) and in the high March 0.9 range.
General Electric's engine division is actively pursuing a powerplant design to make Aerion's AS2 possible, and Honeywell and Lockheed Martin are also part of Aerion's development team. The key element after the powerplants is aerodynamics that deliver fuel efficiency both above and below supersonic.
Aerion's approach, if successful, could be implemented without a total repeat of the supersonic ban. The AS2 wouldn't make a boom below the speed of sound, while still delivering good fuel economy. In November 2015 Aerion set a target to achieve FAA certification in 2021 and enter service in 2023, but in November 2017 the company amended that goal to 2025.
Other Players With Supersonic Ambitions
Several other aviation firms are also working to solve the challenges of supersonic. Among those working through the issues, Gulfstream Aerospace has devoted time and research and funds in the past. And Boom Technology is working to develop its Overture.
Others are in the wings, quietly moving toward the same goal. With several business jets already of cruising in the mid-to-high Mach 0.9 range, it's logical to expect the next advance to ultimately arrive.
If Aerion holds to its schedule, that supersonic capability could be with us by 2025 – with no earplugs needed.