Aerion unveils three-engine supersonic business jet

Nevada-based Aerion Corp. has announced the AS2, a supersonic business jet featuring three engines that the company anticipates will be certified by 2021.

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Supersonic technology specialist Aerion Corp. (Reno, Nev., USA) on May 19 introduced a larger configuration for the first in a family of supersonic business jets. The company is growing its technical organization and preparing to enter into industrial collaborations aimed at launching a new era of supersonic flight.

The Aerion AS2 retains a supersonic natural laminar flow wing, the key enabling technology behind practical and efficient supersonic and high-subsonic flight. The aircraft has a larger cabin, with cross-section dimensions roughly equivalent to those of today’s long-range business jets. It also has a trijet configuration that confers a number of benefits, especially for runway performance, external noise properties and maximum range.

According to Aerion CEO Doug Nichols: “The message from many of today’s long-range business jet operators is very clear: They want a supersonic jet sooner rather than later; a cabin comparable in comfort to today’s long-range jets; a range of 5,000 nm or better; and they are willing to pay more than $100 million for such an aircraft. That is the supersonic jet we are working to deliver.”

In the first quarter of 2014, Aerion completed its third market study in 10 years to assess demand for a supersonic business jet, as well as the basic parameters of the most preferable configuration. That study, conducted by Roland Vincent Associates, confirmed a consistent level of demand for more than 600 units over 20 years, although with a desire for a larger cabin and more range.

Aerion’s answer is that such an aircraft would be available in about five years from a formal program launch with industrial collaborators in the aerospace industry. The company anticipates certification in or about 2021.

The Aerion AS2 is a three-engine jet and is larger than the originally conceived Aerion supersonic business jet. Fuselage length is 160 ft/49m and maximum takeoff weight is 115,000 lb/52,163 kg. Minimum projected range is 4,750 nautical miles with the intention to achieve a range of more than 5,000 nautical miles.

The aircraft will have a 30-ft/9.1m cabin in a two-lounge layout with galley and both forward and aft lavatories, plus a baggage compartment that is accessible in-flight. Cabin dimensions widen from entryway to the aft seating area where height is 6 feet, 2 inches (1,880 mm) and cabin width is 7 ft, 3 inches (2,210 mm).

As with the smaller, original Aerion SBJ, the new aircraft will have two cruise “sweet spots,” where range and efficiency are at a maximum: one at about .95 Mach, for efficient cruise where supersonic flight is prohibited; and one at about Mach 1.4. At both speeds, total operating cost will be comparable to today’s largest ultra-long-range business jets. Maximum speed is Mach 1.6.

Aerion is in discussion with all leading engine suppliers to determine the optimum core engine for adaptation to supersonic requirements. The selected engine will be in the 15,000 lb thrust range.

The original Aerion supersonic business jet was to be powered by twin 19,600-lb thrust Pratt & Whitney JT8D engines. While a well-proven design, the JT8D originated in the 1960s. It had excellent characteristics for a supersonic jet (for example, its low bypass ratio), however, Aerion subsequently determined that the engine was growth-limited. Moreover, newer, more efficient and more durable engines with lower emissions were preferable for the AS2 and follow-on aircraft.

The requirement to adapt a current engine core for the AS2 aircraft and to structure a joint collaboration among several industrial participants has led Aerion to elect to sponsor and finance the full-scale development program itself. “For program participants, we can take the financial risk largely off the table,” says Nichols. “We intend to make this program happen and, frankly, to maximize our return on investment. By assuming financial sponsorship of the program, we can accelerate commercialization of Aerion’s unique technology and intellectual property, and make practical and efficient supersonic flight a reality in just a few years.”

While discussions continue with potential partners, Aerion is proceeding with the advanced design of the AS2, including continued testing. It recently concluded a series of low-speed wind tunnel tests at the University of Washington Aeronautical Laboratory, assessing various high-lift flap configurations, and will conducted additional wind tunnel tests on other configuration elements in late May and early June. To date, Aerion has invested more than $100 million to develop proprietary enabling technologies and multidisciplinary optimization design tools to enable a renaissance of supersonic travel. 

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