African Pilot

The most promising supersonic business jet projects


10 SAI Quiet SuperSonic Transport (QSST)

The X-59 QueSST technology demonstrat­or, a collaborat­ion between Lockheed Martin and NASA, is scheduled to conduct its maiden flight in early 2022. It is a poster child of the supersonic race and is intended to test the possibilit­y of reducing sonic boom, the very issue that limited the operations of first-generation supersonic airliners. The roots of the X-59 date back to a particular business jet, the QSST, in developmen­t by Supersonic Aerospace Internatio­nal (SAI).The company, created by Michael Paulson, the son of Gulfstream founder Allen Paulson, contracted Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works division to develop a 12-seat, Mach 1.8 aircraft which would produce virtually no sonic boom in cruise flight. However, the developmen­t was plagued by problems. By 2010 the company had almost disintegra­ted, only to re-emerge in 2013 with a new project, a larger and sleeker supersonic jet. However, new publicity did not help to generate more funds and the project stalled. On the strength of Lockheed Martin’s work for SAI, NASA selected it to build the X-59.

9 EON nxt-01

Eon Aerospace was founded by South African billionair­e and tech entreprene­ur, Priven Reddy. In August 2021 he announced the launch of his own aerospace start-up, L.E.A.P., short for Leading Edge Aviation Propulsion. Since then, L.E.A.P. has been quietly renamed Eon, but has retained its ambitious plans. The first product from the company, the nxt-1 is supposed to use quiet sonic boom technology, have the speed of Mach 1.9 and fly at an altitude of 60,000 feet (18,000 meters).

The company also promises to operate with net-zero carbon emissions, develop a bladeless engine for the improved version of the jet and conduct the first service by 2029. The aircraft will have between 65 and 88 seats, which would make it viable for airlines. Neverthele­ss, just as with any aircraft, it can have a business jet variant. It also promises to feature the same low-boom technology from the X-59 QueSST demonstrat­or, which would mean that the nxt-01 could fly above land without shattering windows and eardrums with its sonic boom. Whilst Eon’s promises are attractive, the company does not have any experience in aerospace manufactur­ing and has not demonstrat­ed any achievemen­ts besides a host of beautiful 3D renderings of its proposed airliner.

8 Unnamed Russian supersonic jet

Russia had countless projects to build small supersonic commercial aircraft throughout the years. It all started with the proposal to convert the MiG-25 supersonic intercepto­r for passenger service in the early 1960s. There was the Tupolev Tu-144 and several initiative­s in the 1990s and 2000s. But the real start was in 2018 when Russian President Vladimir Putin floated the idea of adapting the Tu-160 strategic bomber for passenger service. As bizarre as that idea was, it prompted Russia’s United Aircraft Corporatio­n (UAC) to react and produce some viable concepts for a small supersonic jet.

The most recent news is that drone company Kronshtadt is going to manufactur­e an unmanned technology demonstrat­or for the project, but neither deadlines nor specificat­ions are clear. It is only known that several variants are being studied, among them an eight-seat business jet and a 30-seat airliner, both capable of flying at Mach 1.8, having the range of up to 8,000 kilometres and featuring an indigenous version of the low-boom design.

While it has been announced that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is interested in collaborat­ing with Russia on the project, its future is unclear. In April 2021, the head of state conglomera­te Rostec called the project ‘economical­ly unfeasible’. Rostec actually owns UAC, so, if the parent company does not see much point in pursuing the project, it might follow the fate of dozens of previous supersonic transports proposed in Russia.

7 Unnamed Chinese hypersonic jet

Recently, China has proposed many strange, science fiction-inspired aircraft concepts. Among them is the idea of building a six-seat hypersonic commercial aircraft by 2035. While the developmen­t is very secretive, the goal is clear and it has a deadline, the latter being a feature that most other hypersonic proposals lack. China’s recent progress with hypersonic­s actually lends credibilit­y to this idea and since the developmen­t is being conducted by government­funded research institutio­ns, it does not have to abide by the ever-present laws of commerce. This means that China might build it despite no promise of profits.

6 Unnamed Virgin Galactic supersonic aircraft

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic announced its entry into the market in August 2020. The aircraft will carry 19 people at an altitude of 60,000 feet (18,000 meters) and at the speed of Mach 3, the company said. Those numbers look impressive, since most other supersonic business jet projects barely scratch Mach 2 and less. But it is difficult to tell how seriously the company takes this project as no further informatio­n has been revealed; no deadlines, no costs, nothing.

Is Virgin Galactic’s project just a way to attract attention?

On the other hand, the company has demonstrat­ed that it can impress, when its Unity flew Branson to the edge of space. Maybe, one day, the supersonic jet project will also take-off.

Lockheed Martin Quiet Supersonic Technology Airliner (QSTA)

The company worked on the X-59 QueSST for the better part of the past decade, gaining knowledge and know-how on quiet supersonic flight technology. After partnershi­ps with SAI and Aerion failed one after another, Lockheed Martin decided to become fully involved on its own. Its own supersonic airliner project was unveiled in 2019 as a 40-seat Mach 1.8 project with a V-tail and a range of 5,200 nautical miles (9,600 kilometres).

By 2023, Lockheed Martin hopes to achieve significan­t milestones by testing the X-59 and begin designing the QSTA in earnest. The aircraft is going to be somewhat larger than a regular business jet and is one of those projects which aims to operate with regular airlines.

Neverthele­ss, if successful, it will probably have a business jet variant, especially if Lockheed Martin manages to be one of the first companies to build a commercial supersonic aircraft with low-boom features.

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