Aerion Corporation says it will fly its AS2 supersonic business jet in 2023 and will do its first trans-Atlantic flight with the aircraft on Oct. 24 of that year, the 20th anniversary of the last commercial flight of the Concorde supersonic airliner. At a news conference at NBAA in Orlando, CEO Tom Vice said that GE has designed an engine to push the 11-seat aircraft at Mach 1.4 over the ocean and subsonically over land. Vice said the engine was the final piece of a complex puzzle to create an aircraft that would be comfortable, efficient, environmentally responsible and quiet and still meet the speed demands of the new market. “This is the first supersonic business jet in history and the first civilian supersonic aircraft in 50 years,” said Vice.
Aerion, which is funded by “passionate investor” Robert Bass, hasn’t built any part of the aircraft and has been concentrating on research aimed at making the aircraft fit into the existing airspace and regulatory structure. To that end it has enlisted help from Honeywell for the avionics and other electronic systems and Lockheed Martin for the system integration and overall design through its Skunkworks research and development center. As the final arbiter for all the systems that the complex aircraft will need, Skunkworks project manager Dave Richardson said the engine was the last obstacle. “There are no showstoppers,” he said.
Vice also elaborated on how the aircraft might be able to use technology to fly supersonically over the U.S. Supersonic flight over the U.S. is now banned by the FAA but the AS2 will have technology on board that will analyze environmental conditions and calculate speeds and altitudes (up to the service ceiling of 60,000 feet) at which it can break the sound barrier without the resulting boom hitting the ground. As for subsonic operations, the aircraft will meet the more stringent Stage 5 noise restrictions that will come into effect in 2022, making it among the quietest aircraft available. It will also exceed emission standards, Vice said.
Aerion plans to build a maximum of 500 of the $120 million aircraft and reinvest the proceeds into follow-on designs that are larger and faster. Vice said there is already a supersonic airliner on the drawing board but it won’t be like existing airliners. There is no timeline on the subsequent models.
In a follow-on news conference GE Aviation unveiled the new engine. The Affinity engine is a 16,000- to 20,000-pound medium-bypass design with two shafts and fans. It’s built around the core of the ubiquitous CFM 56 engine, which powers thousands of airliners and has accumulated billions of flight hours. To handle the rigors of high speed and high altitude (service ceiling of 60,000 feet) many components had to be beefed up and able to handle the high temperatures of Mach 1.4 operations. At the Aerion news conference, GE spokesman Brad Mottier said the technical challenges have been overcome. “It’s a remarkable machine for a remarkable aircraft,” he said.