MIAMI – After half a century, competition heats up to introduce a supersonic passenger aircraft to enter commercial service. The US designer Aerion is building a giant new global headquarters in Florida ahead of the AS2 production commencement in 2023. The AS2 aims to fly to London in 4.5 hours.
This is a drastic move forward for the Aerion, which will get some of the US$300m it has attracted to capital expenditure to build the 110+ acre (445000 sq.m) Aerion Park in Melbourne, right next to Orlando Melbourne International Airport (MLB). The vast new HQ has an integrated campus for research, engineering, manufacturing and cabin interior, and will boost high-paying job market in Florida by 2026.
Thundering the skies with speed of Mach 1.4 (1730 kmh) and carry 8-12 passenger, the AS2 will reduce journey times from New York to Cape Town by three hours, and save more than four hours between New York’s JFK and Singapore and JFK and Sydney.
Although Concorde was a tech marvel of its time, it is now known as the last supersonic passenger plane to cross our sky. Its high operating costs and environmental effects caused its retirement more than 17 years ago.
Tom Vice, Chairman and CEO of Aerion Corporation said, “Concorde was a brilliant piece of machinery, a noble experiment”. However, it emitted too much into the environment, too noisy to communities, and was too expensive to operate. “What we’re trying to do is totally different,” said Vice.
Aerion has already secured a domestic and international order backlog worth of US$6.5bn and it plans to deliver 300 aircraft over 10 years of production. The AS2 will perform its maiden flight during 2024 and after all certification, the company bring it to commercial market in 2026.
The AS2 list price is US$120m, which Aerion believes people are going to pay because it saves time. Yet Aerion’s giant goals are that the aircraft will fly benevolently in the skies. “The world can’t wait until 2050, to become carbon neutral. We have to do this today,” Vice said.
Collaboration to Lowest Fuel-burn
General Electric’s supersonic engine, the Affinity, will power the AS2, and Spirit AeroSystems produces the pressurized fuselage. On the other hand, Honeywell is revolutionizing the cockpit trough leveraging its background in supersonic fighters to design AS2’s mission processors, displays, sensors and flight control systems.
“We wanted to design AS2 incredibly efficient with lowest fuel-burn possible. Therefore, we spent 10 years thinking about advanced aerodynamics and fuel-efficient engines. We’ve designed specifically around noise and emissions,” said Vice. Unlike the Concorde, they omitted afterburners, a device that sprays fuel onto engine exhaust and boost the thrust during take-off.
“We ruled that out because it’s too noisy and puts too much emissions in the environment,” Vice said. The second thing Aerion cared about was power source. Hence, it desired an aircraft independent of carbon energy and that could operate on 100% synthetic fuels since day one. Additionally, the Plane maker has agreed to a substantial reforestation program to guarantee carbon credits for every passenger on each trip.
The AS2 will comply with Stage 5 Airplane Noise Standards, the most stringent take-off and landing noise regulations. “Our aircraft is going to be as quiet as other airplanes around airports.” Vice said. As a result, one of the most innovative features of the AS2 is “boomless cruise” that enables supersonic flight over land without hitting boom on the ground. Instead, the noise is being reflected back into the atmosphere.
To segment itself as unique Supersonic Commercial Jet, Aerion invented the “boomless cruise” concept. Because the alternative type of quieter supersonic flight, called “low boom,” though less noisy than Concorde, still produces disturbance on the ground similar to the roaring of distant thunder.
Vice is excited to demonstrate this technological innovations in practice. Moreover, he hopes “once regulators understand that we can do that efficiently, we’ll have the first aircraft in history that can fly supersonic over land, and no one on the ground will hear the boom.” Vice believes that ‘boomless cruise’ combined with carbon-free flight operations is convincing efficiency and beneficial to potential customers.
New Generations of Supersonic
The company evaluated how business owners fly. For example, it looked at a company out of New York that flew business jets around the world. As a result, when it reruns those flights by AS2, 142 hours a year will be saved for every passenger.
Aerion’s ultimate futuristic world is one where people can easily fly between two points on Earth within three hours. It intends to make AS2 the first in the next supersonic generation to accomplish such task, following it up with the AS3. However, Aerion’s most ambitious proposals is a hybrid-electric supersonic aircraft.
The range of potential rivals are playing their part in the supersonic and hypersonic flight sectors. Though the one that is actually making the most noise is Boom. The Denver-based start-up made history by launching its XB-1 demonstrator aircraft, In October 2020. Due to the pandemic, the unveiling ceremony held virtual and aired on the company’s website. The XB-1 is the first independently built supersonic aircraft.
Nicknamed ‘Baby Boom’ with 71-foot-long fuselage is a 1:3-scale example of Boom’s forthcoming supersonic passenger jet Overture. Having speed of Mach 2.2 is capable to fly London to New York in just three and half hours.
Featured image: The AS2. Aerion