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Boeing launches supersonic development

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Boeing have announced a partnership with Nevada-based Aerion, a company breaking new ground in supersonic flight. 

The Aerion AS2 is a supersonic business jet capable of carrying up to 12 passengers
(Image via Aerion)

As part of the partnership agreement, Boeing are making a significant investment in Aerion’s technology development and aircraft design, with the aim to bring the company’s supersonic business jet to market.

Aerion’s AS2 supersonic jet is designed to fly at speeds up to Mach 1.4 (approximately 1000mph (1,609kph). A transatlantic flight would save passengers around 3 hours of flight time. 

Plus, the company claim that it can be done without creating a sonic boom. 

This loud, clap-like sound is caused by shockwaves in the air caused by objects breaking the sound barrier. The US Federal Aviation Administration prohibits civilian supersonic flight over the United States and from a certain distance offshore due to the volume of the boom.

The challenge then is to achieve supersonic flight without creating a sonic boom. NASA are working on their own Low Boom Flight Demonstration (LBFD) project which includes designs like the X59 which is aerodynamically shaped to achieve the target speeds without causing a boom. AS2, however, have their own ideas for what they call a “boomless cruise”, otherwise known as a “Mach cut-off flight”, where the plane can break the sound barrier without a boom reaching the ground.

Aerion’s vice president of marketing, Jeff Miller explained:

“Rather than aerodynamic shaping, we will use onboard and remote sensors to evaluate atmospheric conditions and limit cruise speed to a setting at which a sonic boom would refract off warmer layers of the atmosphere or dissipate before reaching the ground.”

Boeing will provide engineering and flight test resources to help the Aerion AS2 achieve its first flight by 2023
(Image via Boeing)

As well as dealing with the boom, the company also claim that their design will be more efficient and economical than previous supersonic designs, including the only supersonic passenger jet, Concorde.

“The Concorde was successful from a technical standpoint, but in terms of economics, it was too expensive to operate, its range was limited, it was noisy and its fuel consumption was high”, said Miller.

“We’ve been focusing on improving efficiency so we can lower the cost of operations and extend the range of the plane so it’s not limited to just barely getting across the Atlantic. Now you’ve got an airplane that will really take you places.”

The plane will be powered by GE Aviation’s supersonic engine Affinity, first introduced in October. The company claim it will be able to operate as high as 60,000 feet and meet stringent noise requirements. 

Brad Mottier, vice president and general manager for GE Aviation said: 

“Our mission was to design an efficient, environmentally compliant engine that could provide exceptional and balanced performance across supersonic and subsonic flights. We believe we have done that.”

The Aerion AS2 is proposed to achieve supersonic flight without creating a loud sonic boom audible at ground level
(Image via Aerion)

As part of the deal, Boeing will provide engineering, manufacturing and flight test resources as well as strategic vertical content to help Aerion reach their goal of having the AS2 make its first flight in 2023.

If the 12 passenger business jet proves successful, the technology may be expanded across other Boeing developments. A return to supersonic passenger air travel could be closer than we thought.

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