The Spike Aerospace S-512 supersonic business jet concept has a unique feature that would set it apart from any other passenger jet, a windowless cabin. The benefits of building a fuselage without windows are significant, according to Spike Aerospace president and CEO Vik Kachoria.
“A lot has changed in technology,” he said. “We finally have flat-screen TVs thin and light enough and cameras with amazing clarity.” A windowless cabin with high-resolution displays fed by external cameras would eliminate the extra weight and complexity involved in building the structure needed to support the windows and make possible a much smoother fuselage that lowers drag, especially useful on a supersonic jet. While it seems that passengers might be uncomfortable with the concept of a windowless fuselage, during long-distance flights it’s rare for passengers to open window shades because the bright outside light interferes with entertainment system viewing. So there might not be too much resistance to a windowless cabin.
Kachoria said that Spike Aerospace isn’t looking for ways to get around the sonic boom problem, which limits the use of supersonic commercial jets over populated areas. “We’re being pragmatic,” he said. “We know there is a big market that needs to get from the U.S. to Europe, and there are no restrictions on booming offshore. We’re focused on that transoceanic market.”
With a cruise speed of Mach 1.6, the S-512 will carry 12 to 18 passengers at a maximum altitude of about 60,000 feet. The jet’s range was initially projected at 4,000 nm but, he added, “we know we need to extend it.” Spike had originally planned on Pratt & Whitney JT8D engines, “but we’re not going to use that engine,” Kachoria said, “because it’s not going to meet noise requirements. There are other engine types, and we’re trying to evaluate which one is appropriate.” Flight controls will be fly-by-wire.
Spike Aerospace, which is based in Boston, is seeking partners to help build the S-512. The company has also been raising money toward the more than $1 billion that Kachoria expects will be needed to achieve certification. “We have quite a few commitments from investors for the first two rounds [of funding] for the next two-and-a-half years,” he said. “The challenge is certification cost and time frame. We don’t know what obstacles we’re going to [face]. We will need new rules and guidelines. If they don’t add a lot of hoops and hurdles, we can do it in the [planned] time frame. Money is an issue, but the bigger issue is regulatory. Engineering isn’t the biggest issue.”
Spike Aerospace employs six engineers and is planning to add more as the project accelerates. Kachoria said that Spike concurs with market estimates for 600 supersonic business jets in 10 years, if production were to begin in 2020. He believes that Spike’s approach is relatively conservative and that the timing for a supersonic business jet is ideal. “We’re not trying to solve all the problems that come with supersonic flight,” he said. “This market is different from the one 10 years ago. Ten years ago we didn’t have the Asian market. Now the amount of money in reaching other markets is huge. And now we have the Middle East; that wasn’t a [large] aircraft market 10 years ago. That’s why we think the timing is perfect.”