Lockheed Martin, Aerion Reach MOU on Future of AS2

 - December 15, 2017, 1:01 PM
Aerion forged a working agreement with Lockheed Martin to take advantage of the latter's expertise with supersonic aircraft. (Photo: Aerion)

Lockheed Martin has joined forces with Aerion to explore development of the Aerion AS2 supersonic business jet, the companies announced today. In tandem with that announcement, Aerion is fully opening its order book for a slightly redesigned Mach 1.4 AS2 as it continues with plans for a first fight in 2023 and certification in 2025.

Under a memorandum of understanding, Lockheed Martin and Aerion will develop a framework over the next 12 months for all phases of the program, from engineering to certification and production.

Aerion executive chairman Brian Barents called the agreement an “evolving process,” saying the organizational structure will progress over time. Barents stopped short of calling the arrangement a full partnership, yet. But he called the agreement “huge…a major step forward” for the program and said the anticipation is Lockheed Martin will produce the AS2 under an Aerion type certificate.

“This is clearly a long-term teaming relationship that ultimately could end up in a partnership,” Barents said. “We would fully expect that we would use the infrastructure that [Lockheed Martin has] today.”

Site selection is ongoing, but Barents said the companies are concentrating on potential locations near the coast, where they could test the supersonic capabilities. One possibility is Marietta, Georgia, added Orlando Carvalho, executive v-p, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.

The agreement comes as Aerion has transitioned its relationship with Airbus, which had worked with the Reno, Nevada–based firm on designing the AS2. Barents expects Aerion to continue a relationship with Airbus on a contractor basis, saying, “We had been paying them for their services as a contractor, and we will continue to do so where and when we see applications for their expertise.”

But Airbus already has a lot on its plate and was unable to expand it further as Aerion needed.

Barents added, however: “We are grateful for Airbus’s contribution to the program. We could not have moved the program to this stage without their support.“

Lockheed Martin has been working with Aerion over the past year, reviewing the design work already accomplished on the supersonic jet. Barents said the design “passed muster” with Lockheed, which has a long background and well developed expertise in supersonic technologies, with a portfolio that includes the Mach 3 SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft, along with the F-16, F-35 and F-22 fighters.

“This relationship is absolutely key to creating a supersonic renaissance,” said Aerion chairman Robert Bass. “When it comes to supersonic know-how, Lockheed Martin’s capabilities are well known, and, in fact, legendary.”

“Following our initial review of Aerion’s aerodynamic technology, our conclusion is that the Aerion AS2 concept warrants the further investment of our time and resources,” said Carvalho. “We are committed to remaining on the cutting edge of aerospace technology and are excited to examine the contribution we might make to working with Aerion on making aviation history.”

Design work on the AS2 is ongoing and will continue at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works Advanced Development Programs office. Aerion has modified the design, moving two of the three engines forward. The change provides greater operating flexibility, center-of-gravity management and maintainability to the inlets, Barents said.

The project, meanwhile, is lining up major suppliers. GE announced in May 2017 that it is collaborating on an engine, and Barents noted that the powerplant will involve a common core of an existing engine in the 18,000-pounds-thrust range that has accrued millions of hours and has worldwide support. Working with a known entity, he said, reduces risk in the program.

GE has a dedicated engineering team to the effort, said Brad Mottier, vice resident and general manager, Business and General Aviation and Integrated Systems for GE Aviation, “We have progressed rapidly since May to define the AS2 engine and evaluation process. With Aeron we continue to work on engine architecture, requirements and integration activities. We have nearly concluded this initial design exercise [to] arrive at a configuration well suited to AS2 needs,” said Mottier. GE is not yet ready to put a name on it, he added, but reiterated it was based on proven technologies. 

Mitigating risk has been key, Barents said, noting the company purposefully has kept speed projections below Mach 1.6, because that would have entailed another layer of design complexities. The 12-passenger aircraft will fly at Mach 1.4 over water, and where permitted, up to Mach 1.2 over land. Barents notes that outside the U.S., the aircraft may be permitted to reach those speeds as long as the sonic boom does not reach the ground.

While the order book is fully opened now, Aerion had already lined up a launch customer, announcing in November 2015 that Flexjet had placed orders for 20 of the aircraft valued at $2.4 billion.

The program provides Lockheed a re-entry to the business jet market, where it holds its place in history. It was Lockheed that brought the first purpose-built business jet—the JetStar—to market in 1961.