A breakthrough in aerodynamics research means that the Aerion supersonic business jet (SSBJ) may be more feasible than once thought.
Aerion is developing the SSBJ concept and hopes to either license its intellectual property to an airframe manufacturer or partner with one to build the airplane. The decision on who that partner might be is expected to be made by yearend.
While the concept has been under development for years, its real feasibility was somewhat in doubt until earlier this year when the notion of full-chord natural laminar flow (NLF) at supersonic speeds was verified at a wing tunnel in Germany.
Aerodynamists had believed for decades that NLF over the entire chord of a supersonic airplane was possible, but it had never been proven. The discovery means that Aerion, which has patented the wing design, can achieve its planned Mach 1.6 cruise speed using a conventional jet engine rather than an entirely new engine because NLF reduces drag by some 20 percent over a wing that can’t achieve NLF at those speeds.
In addition, the wing at subsonic speeds has drag comparable to a conventional swept wing, meaning that Aerion can cruise efficiently at high subsonic speeds over land where sonic booms will not be tolerated. The airplane is expected to have a 4,000 nm range at supersonic speeds and about 4,500 nm at subsonic speeds.
Aerion officials believe that deliveries of the SSBJ can occur in 2014. The development project is expected to cost between $2.5 billion and $3 billion. The next phase, in addition to identifying a partner, is proof of concept, which includes showing that the airplane can be efficiently built, although the phases do not including building an airplane. That will occur once the proof-of-concept phase is complete.