THE FLIGHT OF THE NEXT CON­CORDE Su­per­sonic flight is once again poised to take off

Su­per­sonic flight, long as­so­ci­ated with the Con­corde, is poised for a come­back, thanks to three avi­a­tion star­tups.

Jetgala - - CONTENTS -

Al­though Con­corde last flew in 2003, to many, it still rep­re­sents what should be the fu­ture of avi­a­tion, not its past. Thanks to three startup avi­a­tion com­pa­nies, com­mer­cial su­per­sonic air­craft may again take to the skies as early as 2022.

In 1976, Con­corde be­gan jet­ting pas­sen­gers across the world at Mach 2.0, most fa­mously be­tween New York and Lon­don or Paris. Each flight took un­der four hours, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for a banker in Lon­don to fly to New York for a busi­ness lunch and re­turn the same day to tuck her chil­dren to bed.

Un­for­tu­nately, Con­corde was chal­lenged by sev­eral lim­i­ta­tions. First and fore­most was ex­pense. Ow­ing to high op­er­at­ing costs, tick­ets were priced sim­i­lar to sub­sonic first class or even higher, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for British Air­ways or Air France (the two prin­ci­pal oper­a­tors) to at­tract enough cus­tomers to re­li­ably turn a profit, es­pe­cially in times of high fuel costs.

Sec­ond, the sonic boom caused by Con­corde was dis­rup­tive enough that su­per­sonic travel over the US and other ter­ri­to­ries was pro­hib­ited. This, in ef­fect, lim­ited Con­corde to over­wa­ter routes such as the afore­men­tioned US-Europe routes.

Third, the on­board ex­pe­ri­ence of Con­corde was of­ten de­scribed as “cramped.” In re­al­ity, it was sim­i­lar to to­day’s first or busi­ness class seat­ing found aboard nar­row body air­craft such as the Boe­ing 737 or Air­bus A320. How­ever, for a flight that some­times could be com­pleted in a lit­tle over three hours, this seemed to be a small price to pay.

New tech­nol­ogy, new pos­si­bil­i­ties

Ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy and the en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit are be­hind the resur­gence in in­ter­est for su­per­sonic travel.

As the lat­est com­mer­cial air­craft such as the Boe­ing 787 and Air­bus A350 have proven, build­ing fuse­lages pri­mar­ily out of car­bon ma­te­ri­als not only re­duces weight but also re­sults in stronger fuse­lages com­pared to tra­di­tional metal ones. Lighter weight trans­lates into lower op­er­at­ing ex­penses and the greater po­ten­tial for prof­itabil­ity by pric­ing su­per­sonic travel on par with to­day’s busi­ness class tick­ets.

Equally im­por­tant are re­cent ad­vances in en­gine tech­nol­ogy. To­day’s en­gines are sub­stan­tially more re­li­able and ef­fi­cient thereby re­duc­ing op­er­at­ing costs.

Pas­sen­gers aboard air­craft such as the Air­bus A380 are of­ten sur­prised at just how quiet flight is to­day. Build­ing upon these ad­vances, en­gine man­u­fac­tur­ers are con­fi­dent that they can re­duce the clas­sic sonic boom down to an in­con­se­quen­tial level. This, in turn, could open up over­land city pairs such as New York-Los An­ge­les, pre­sum­ing that reg­u­la­tors agree.

Third, evo­lu­tion in on­board com­fort de­lights busi­ness class pas­sen­gers with a level of lux­ury that was not com­monly of­fered even in first class a gen­er­a­tion ago. To­day’s busi­ness class pas­sen­gers are in­creas­ingly treated to lie-flat beds, large high-def­i­ni­tion tele­vi­sions, and cabin pres­sure and hu­mid­ity more sim­i­lar to that found on the ground. These ad­vances in on­board com­fort are within reach for next-gen­er­a­tion su­per­sonic air­craft.

Star­tups lead­ing in­no­va­tion

Three avi­a­tion star­tups are vy­ing to in­tro­duce next gen­er­a­tion su­per­sonic travel.

Boom is per­haps the most well known of the three star­tups, as it is pri­mar­ily fo­cused on com­mer­cial air travel. Backed by the Vir­gin Group among other in­vestors, Boom al­ready has an or­der for 20 air­craft from co-in­vestor Ja­pan Air­lines. Boom’s air­craft, also named Boom, may en­ter into com­mer­cial ser­vice as early as 2022.

To meet such a de­mand­ing time­line, Boom has de­vel­oped a smaller pro­to­type for test­ing. Named XB-1, it will soon re­ceive its three en­gines from Gen­eral Elec­tric to be­gin test­ing at the Mo­jave Air & Space Port in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

Boom is ex­pected to carry up to 55 pas­sen­gers as far as 5,179 nm. Speeds are planned to reach Mach 2.2, which would top Con­corde’s top speed. The com­pany es­ti­mates that New York to Lon­don would take just three hours and 15 min­utes at a pas­sen­ger cost of $2,500 each way – not out of line with to­day’s busi­ness class equiv­a­lent fares.

Busi­ness jet oper­a­tors needn’t feel left out. Boom says that its air­liner will also be avail­able as an ul­tra-VIP busi­ness jet as well.

Busi­ness jet travel

While Boom seeks to re­vive the Con­corde mar­ket, Ae­rion is tak­ing a dif­fer­ent ap­proach by di­rectly tar­get­ing the busi­ness jet mar­ket with its su­per­sonic air­craft named AS2. By some es­ti­mates, there may be de­mand for at least 300 su­per­sonic busi­ness jet air­craft.

Al­though AS2 may prove to be more ex­pen­sive than to­day’s sim­i­larly-sized sub­sonic busi­ness air­craft, these air­craft will ap­peal to two less price-sen­si­tive seg­ments of busi­ness class jet oper­a­tors. One seeks to fly in the very fastest air­craft avail­able – think roy­alty and bil­lion­aires. The other is made up of VVIP ex­ec­u­tives for whom time is money and would not hes­i­tate to spend more to earn more.

The AS2 is ex­pected to cruise at Mach 1.4 with a range of 4,200 nm. While slower than Boom, this is still al­most twice as fast as many busi­ness jets in the skies to­day.

Ae­rion hopes that through their en­gine tech­nol­ogy, trav­el­ing at a slightly slower Mach 1.2 will re­sult in a “Boom­less Cruise,” mean­ing that the sonic boom the AS2 gen­er­ates will be so min­i­mal as to be in­con­se­quen­tial by the time the boom reaches the ground. At the ap­pro­pri­ate time, Ae­rion plans to pe­ti­tion reg­u­la­tors for per­mis­sion to fly at Mach 1.2 over land.

In the mean­time, the AS2 can travel at Mach 0.95 with­out gen­er­at­ing any sonic boom at all. The lower speed has the added ad­van­tage of min­imis­ing fuel so the AS2’s range is pre­dicted to be 5,400 nm.

In late 2017, Ae­rion an­nounced a part­ner­ship with Lock­heed Martin to de­velop the AS2. Lock­heed Martin brings deep su­per­sonic de­vel­op­ment ex­pe­ri­ence to the part­ner­ship ow­ing to the com­pany’s strong su­per­sonic her­itage in the pro­duc­tion of mil­i­tary air­craft such as the F-16 and F-35 jets.

Oper­a­tors of the AS2 will be able to con­fig­ure their su­per­sonic busi­ness jet sim­i­larly to sub­sonic busi­ness jets. For in­stance, while the AS2 could carry as many as 12 pas­sen­gers, in a lower den­sity lay­out it is pos­si­ble to de­sign a split cabin to pro­vide a pri­vate bed­room com­plete with on­board shower.

Flex­jet, the frac­tional air­craft fleet op­er­a­tor, has al­ready an­nounced its in­ten­tion to pur­chase 20 AS2 air­craft.

If de­vel­op­ment re­mains on track, the AS2’s first flight will take place in 2023 with cer­ti­fi­ca­tion fol­low­ing two years later.

The in-be­tween

Last, but not least, there is Spike Aero­space who is de­vel­op­ing an air­craft named S-512.

As en­vi­sioned by Spike Aero­space, the Spike S-512 will fit in be­tween Boom and the AS2 in terms of ca­pac­ity and per­for­mance.

It is ex­pected to carry 12-18 pas­sen­gers at Mach 1.6 for up to 6,200 nm.

Like the AS2, new tech­nol­ogy will re­duce the S5-12’s sonic boom to a frac­tion of that pro­duced by Con­corde. In fact, Spike Aero­space hopes that the S-512 will qual­ify

for flight over land even at the air­craft’s max­i­mum speed of Mach 1.6.

Pas­sen­gers will have much more than speed to look for­ward to thanks to an am­bi­tious cabin de­sign. Tak­ing the place of tra­di­tional cabin walls with win­dows ev­ery few feet will be high-def­i­ni­tion screens that will pro­vide a real-time, 360-de­gree view out­side of the plane. For times when the out­side may not be so ex­cit­ing to look at (think night­time oceanic travel), the screens will be pro­gram­mable to pro­ject im­ages as well as movies and po­ten­tially even peo­ple via video con­fer­enc­ing. Spike Aero­space dubs this “In­no­va­tive Multiplex Dig­i­tal Cabin.” By elim­i­nat­ing win­dows, the fuse­lage will be stronger and the S-512 qui­eter than tra­di­tional busi­ness jets.

Spike Aero­space hopes that the S-512 will be­gin com­mer­cial de­liv­er­ies in 2023. In the mean­time, the com­pany has de­vel­oped a pro­to­type for test­ing pur­poses named SX-1.2. Al­ready, the com­pany has re­ceived in­ter­est from two air­lines in ad­di­tion to busi­ness jet oper­a­tors.

Break­ing bar­ri­ers

Boom, Ae­rion, and Spike Aero­space each seek to cre­ate a re­nais­sance for su­per­sonic travel. Be­yond their ef­forts is re­search into hy­per­sonic trans­porta­tion. In gen­er­a­tions to come, to­day’s lead­ing-edge sub­sonic air­craft may feel as ob­so­lete to them as we feel about tur­bo­prop air­craft.


Im­ages cour­tesy of Ae­rion, Boom and Spike Aero­space

The nose of the Boom XB-1 pro­to­type

A British Air­ways Con­corde

TOP AND BOT­TOM: The Ae­rion AS2 and Spike S-512

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