NBAA Convention News

SSBJ developers having a hard time gaining traction

 - September 20, 2007, 12:06 PM

Three companies have expressed serious interest in developing a supersonic business jet (SSBJ), but none of the designs proposed by Aerion, Sukhoi or Supersonic Aerospace International has reached the launch stage, making it unlikely that any will emerge as a flying prototype anytime soon.

Still, the would-be SSBJ manufacturers have high hopes for the future. Aerion has performed aerodynamic tests of its wing design and also developed a way to fly efficiently at subsonic speeds over land. The research firm has designed a jet that promises to offer at Mach 1.5 a 4,000-nm NBAA IFR range similar to that achieved at a subsonic cruise speed of Mach 0.95. Operating expenses should range between those of a Global Express XRS and Boeing BBJ, the company claims. Interestingly, the Aerion’s proposed power comes from two ordinary and readily available Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219s delivering 19,600 pounds of thrust.

At this point, Aerion is still seeking a manufacturer partner “to assume leadership in integration, certification and production,” although the company said that its investors will share in the cost of funding the program. If Aerion is able to find a partner, it hopes to launch the program late next year and begin deliveries in 2014.

Sukhoi’s interest in an SSBJ program comes as part of its participation in the pan-European Hicas (high-speed aircraft) project. Sukhoi is part of the team studying the application of low-sonic-boom technology to an SSBJ that would cruise at Mach 1.4 to 1.8, fly 3,000 to 5,000 nm with eight passengers and have a maximum balanced field length of 5,500 to 6,500 feet. Other teams (37 partners from 13 companies comprise Hisac) are also exploring low-noise SSBJ designs as part of the project.

Supersonic Aerospace (SAI) has said that the cost of bringing its proposed Quiet Supersonic Transport (QSST) to market would be “around $2.5 billion.” The company is tackling the environmental issues surrounding supersonic flight head on. The QSST, according to SAI, will be able “to fly at supersonic speeds over populated areas and in compliance with current or proposed airport and environmental regulations.”

SAI contracted with Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works for some design work on the QSST program, including wind-tunnel testing and sonic-boom suppression research. Features that enable the QSST to fly quietly include an inverted V-tail and other design elements, according to SAI. The jet would fly at Mach 1.6 using a “shaped sonic signature” that is “less than one one-hundredth of the sonic boom created by the recently retired Concorde,” the company said.

A Lockheed Martin spokeswoman said the company is not actively working with SAI. While there is a relationship between the companies, Lockheed Martin has decided to cease its involvement on the QSST program until funding becomes available, she said. Dassault and Gulfstream are also studying supersonic designs, although neither company has committed to a time frame for launching a program except to say it won’t be in the imminent future.