Research carried out in the field of supersonic transport within the European Commission’s 6th Research Framework Program (FP6) has come into the spotlight recently since Italy’s Alenia and Russian design bureau Sukhoi concluded a cooperation agreement. The pact, signed in Moscow last month, is seen as both an important step in the establishment of a long-term strategic partnership between the two companies and the most significant industrial program yet involving the Italian and Russian civil aviation sectors.
Although this agreement focuses primarily on the Russian Regional Jet (RRJ), Alenia Aeronautica CEO Giovanni Bertolone and Sukhoi general director Mikhail Pogosian made no secret that building a supersonic business jet (SSBJ) would be their next target.
In fact, Sukhoi has been working on a supersonic business project for many years. “We will release information in the near future on how we view the development of this project,” Pogosian declared. At the end of 1980s, Sukhoi was involved with Gulfstream and Rolls-Royce on a supersonic project codenamed S-21, which was shelved due to a lack of market response.
Both Alenia and Sukhoi are also involved in the high-speed aircraft (HISAC) project in which Dassault Aviation also plays a key role. The main objective of this project is not to build a SSBJ prototype but to establish the technical feasibility of “an environmentally compliant supersonic small size transport aircraft,” taking into account the need to reduce the sonic boom to a level that would allow the aircraft to fly supersonic over land.
The project, lead by Dassault and involving 37 partners from 13 countries, was officially launched in May last year at Saint Cloud, near Paris, for a duration of four years. Total budget for the project is €26 million ($31 million), with a European Union contribution of €14 million ($17 million).
Three different configurations are being studied by three teams in order to compare the methods and results. The three aircraft families include a low-noise concept (the “A”’ family, under Dassault leadership), a high-range concept (the “B”family, under Alenia leadership) and a low-boom concept (the “C” family, under Sukhoi leadership).
The three SSBJ designs are based upon a common set of requirements that include: a supersonic cruise between Mach 1.4 and Mach 1.8; a minimum range between 3,000 and 5,000 nm with eight passengers; a floor plan of the size of a Falcon 50 at least; a maximum landing weight which is between 70 percent and 95 percent of max takeoff weight; an approach speed at takeoff between 120 and 140 knots; and a maximum balanced field length between 5,500 and 6,500 feet. In addition, it must be able to achieve desirable environmental constraints related to noise, emissions and sonic boom signature.
In parallel to HISAC, two other EU research projects are clearly linked to supersonic transport activities: one called LAPCAT studies advanced air-breathing engines, while the other, called SUPERTRAC, is examining laminar flow techniques.
A source close to Dassault predicted a possible SSBJ program launch in 2015. It will be a major international cooperation program since Dassault also has long established ties with Boeing on supersonic transport research. Given the taste of Russians for ceremonial occasions, a formal announcement may be made during the forthcoming Jet Expo in Moscow (September 20 to 22) or during the next MAKS Moscow airshow in August next year.