When the Cessna Citation X received FAA certification in June 1996, it officially became the fastest business aircraft, with an Mmo of Mach 0.92. Only the Concorde was a faster civil airplane at that time. So when British Airways and Air France announced in April 2003 that they had decided to ground the Concorde for good, the Citation X assumed the mantle of fastest civil aircraft, as well.
Then Gulfstream announced its G650 in March 2008, claiming that its new long-range business jet would achieve an Mmo of Mach 0.925, which would make it the fastest certified civil aircraft by 3.31 knots. The G650’s FAA/EASA certification is planned for 2011. Not to be outdone, Cessna president, CEO and chairman Jack Pelton, in responding to a question at an EBACE press conference on Tuesday said, “If the G650 is certified to 0.925, we will be sure it goes back to number two.”
It is no secret, of course, that Aerion is in discussions with several business jet manufacturers about partnering on the development of its supersonic business jet proposal. The SSBJ would have a maximum speed of Mach 1.6, a high-speed cruise of Mach 1.4 and a long-range cruise speed of Mach 0.95. The Reno, Nevada-based company has already taken $250,000 refundable deposits for orders worth more than $4 billion. With a projected price of $80 million (2007 $) for the SSBJ, that equates to about 50 aircraft.
Aerion has yet to ink an agreement with an OEM, but officials are confident that they will eventually find a partner. While funding is always a huge issue, when the industry was going at a gangbuster pace a year ago, it was the lack of engineering capacity that Aerion said was a big reason that the OEMs were not eager to jump on the SSBJ bandwagon. Now Aerion is encouraged by the fact that several OEMs are reporting available engineering capacity, after slowing development on some of their programs. Cessna is in this group, having shelved its work on its Citation Columbus 850 for the foreseeable future.
Aerion officials also maintain that the aerodynamic design of the SSBJ is most efficient at transonic speeds, which are just under the speed of sound. In other words, the design could just as well be applied to jets that would not operate above Mach 1. This could be appealing to an OEM that wants build a business jet with an Mmo higher than Mach 0.925, but not have to deal with the political, regulatory and environmental aspects of going supersonic.
So, was Pelton’s comment at the press conference an oblique reference to a possible agreement between Cessna and Aerion? We may learn the answer to this question later this year.