Aerion Updates SSBJ Program


Aerion, the guys working on putting together a supersonic business jet (SSBJ), is at this week’s Paris Air Show in force, working with potential suppliers and promoting their project. The Reno, Nev.-based company, formed in 2002, says it is “aggressively pursuing the development of a supersonic business jet,” but remains in the early stages of developing its engineering and business plans. Its goal is to reintroduce commercial supersonic flight by leveraging advances in laminar flow aerodynamics and other technologies. The company’s current efforts have as an objective to present a “profitable program that can swiftly move into full-scale engineering and prototype development.” Aerion says this current design and planning phase is fully funded by an investor group led by Robert Bass. Over the past several months, Aerion has been refining its business case, an effort led by Aerion CFO James Stewart, and has held a number of discussions with OEMs laying out the technical and financial aspects of developing the worlds first SSBJ. As presently envisioned, the Aerion SSBJ will fly below Mach 1 over the U.S., but unrestricted supersonic overland flight is available now over national or regional corridors, including parts of Canada, Australia and Siberia. Elsewhere, the company expects the airplane to cruise at about Mach 1.1 to 1.2 by taking advantage of the lower speed of sound at altitude than on the ground. Aerion says its jet will create shock waves, but at low supersonic speeds they dissipate before reaching the surface.Recent milestones in the aircraft’s development include:

  • Substantial reshaping the forward fuselage to provide a larger, ergonomically enhanced cabin, as well as improved cockpit and windshield design, while at the same time trimming drag. Cabin height has increased to a constant 6.2 feet from 6 feet, maximum cabin width to 6.5 feet and maximum width of the flat cabin floor to 5 feet.
  • The Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 engine that will power the Aerion jet has been selected for the U.S. Air Force JSTARS program, ensuring long-term production availability. The -219 is a state-of-the-art derivative of the ubiquitous JT8D with many new components, including a new, more efficient combustor section.
  • Structural design studies have included cabin, mid- and aft-fuselage, wing outboard panels and carry-through structures. Aeroelastic criteria and flutter resistance have been included in reoptimizing the wing spanwise thickness distribution.
  • The aft fuselage has been lengthened and the tail surface area reduced, providing improved takeoff performance, reduced weight and lower cruising drag.

The level of interest we are seeing from OEMs — and from fleet operators such as fractional programs and aircraft management firms — suggested to us it was time to raise our profile at Paris, said Aerion Vice Chairman Brian Barents. Participation at the Paris Air Show is a major commitment for any company. We expect in the course of this week to move the Aerion aircraft much closer to reality. Aerion said it anticipates a five-year development program from formal launch and a development cost of $2 billion to be born by manufacturing participants and financial participants, plus what it calls “risk-sharing suppliers.”