There has been no shortage of public skepticism over the future of civil supersonic transportation. This is partly due to some pie-in-the-sky ambitions; misunderstanding of the real impact of a sonic boom; and memories of a Concorde program that was a technical marvel in its day, but evolved into what was likely a public relations albatross for its operators and developers.
But the future is only partly dependent upon the past, and some very smart and persistent people have dedicated themselves to making a Mach-busting passenger jet a reality. Fueled in part by an FAA reauthorization funding mandate, those plans appear to have spooled up over the past half year. It will be interesting to see how the next 12 months develop.
Aerion Aerospace claims the pole position in the supersonic derby, and with good reason. Partnered with Lockheed Martin—which has a little experience with supersonic design—its Mach 1.4 AS2 business jet is among the more mature programs in the field, and in October, partner GE Aerospace announced the engine of choice in its Affinity line. Based on the core of the ubiquitous CF56 airline turbofan—a joint venture between GE and Europe’s Safran—the engine will be thermally optimized for supersonic operation while retaining its Stage 5 subsonic noise and emissions capabilities. It is a bit of a PR stretch to tout the engine as the “highest bypass supersonic engine” ever developed, because the AS2 is clearly cast as a hybrid super/subsonic concept.
Among the more interesting projects is Honeywell’s effort combining Big Data, crowdsourced weather information, and advanced avionics to precisely calculate “Mach cutoff,” the supersonic speed limit at which the aircraft’s “N wave” would leave the surface unboomed.
Through 2019, Aerion and its partners will be initiating the process of selecting Tier 1 suppliers for the next phase of development. We’ll all be watching—and listening—with interest.