Paris Air Show

Aerion SSBJ on track for launch next year

 - December 13, 2006, 9:20 AM

A market research study commissioned by Aerion Corp. has confirmed the demand for the Aerion supersonic business jet (SSBJ) concept to the satisfaction of chairman and chief investor Robert Bass, while low-speed wind-tunnel testing of an 8-percent scale model has shown the need for some refinements of the design. Based on the survey, the company estimates a market for 220 to 260 Aerion jets over a 10-year period and more than 500 over 20 years, with 20 percent of sales coming from fractional providers.

According to the U.S. firm, the research also confirmed the airplane’s proposed performance and cabin size–accommodating a maximum of 12 passengers–and the price target of less than $80 million.

The Aerion concept is innovative, yet intentionally limited. Using patented supersonic laminar-flow technology developed by Richard Tracy, chief technology officer, the Aerion jet is expected to push the cruise-speed envelope of current business jets by a factor of two, to about Mach 1.5, while also maintaining fuel efficiency at subsonic speeds of about Mach 0.98. Range both supersonic and subsonic is expected to exceed 4,000 nm.

The aircraft’s design and relatively light weight of 87,000 pounds–compared with the Concorde, for example–are expected to give it a low sonic-boom signature and boomless flight up to Mach 1.1. Thus, current regulations that restrict supersonic flight over some landmasses would not be as detrimental to operation of the Aerion as they would be to a supersonic jet that can fly at higher Mach numbers but is inefficient at subsonic airspeeds. Pratt & Whitney is adapting its JT8D-219 engines, derated to 18,000 pounds thrust, for the Aerion jet.

The three wind-tunnel test series, conducted at the University of Washington Aeronautical Laboratory between February 28 and May 27, showed a need to move the horizontal stabilizer from its original T-position to level with the top of the fuselage to correct a pitch-up problem, explained Mike Henderson, chief operating officer. The strakes along the sides of the fuselage were redesigned to improve low- and high-speed stability, the shape of the wingtips were modified and a bevel was added near the junction of the strakes and the wings. Henderson said the test confirmed Aerion’s performance numbers and stability and control and validated the company’s computational fluid dynamics data.

Development of the design continues and the company intends to conduct a series of high-speed wind-tunnel tests. Discussions with a short list of risk-sharing partners are ongoing. If the program remains on track, Aerion could officially launch the aircraft next year and have its first SSBJ enter service in 2011.