When time is precious and you can’t afford to waste it, but that crucially important business meeting is on the other side of the Atlantic, why not fly supersonic? Take off in the morning, attend the meeting, and arrive back on the same day.
It’s a revolution in business aviation and the supersonic renaissance is being led by Aerion Supersonic with the development of the Mach 1.4 AS2® business jet. Since 2003, Aerion Supersonic has pioneered new technologies to make supersonic flight practical and efficient. Today, Aerion is working with Lockheed Martin and GE Aviation to develop the world’s first supersonic business jet. New aerodynamics, new engines, and the capabilities of the largest producer of supersonic aircraft are coming together.
Dr. Richard Tracy is Aerion’s Chief Technology Officer and responsible for overseeing the technological development and design of supersonic aircraft incorporating Supersonic Natural Laminar Flow (SNLF) technology. He is an aerodynamicist whose extensive research on supersonic natural laminar flow led to the present SNLF wing concept which he first patented in 1994. He has tenaciously pursued the development of commercial applications of SNLF technology and may now have reached the point of realizing his vision: a supersonic business jet.
When we hear the expression ‘Supersonic’, two things come to mind: ‘Concorde’ and ‘Space Science’. Please explain to us in what light we should see your aviation development?
As you note, supersonic travel is not new; Concorde was in service for 27 years until 2003. However, the Aerion AS2 brings a new level of efficiency to supersonic travel, expanding the market and ensuring the wider use of high-speed travel. Our first design is a business jet, because this market places a high premium on speed and is less price sensitive than commercial airlines. Airliner applications, however, are likely to follow.
What are the foremost non-technical challenges you are dealing with?
Recruiting OEM participants is one of the greatest hurdles for any aspirant in the supersonic market. We have accomplished this with GE aviation for engines and Lockheed Martin for engineering support, flight testing, and production.
When your project is fully realized and passenger operations start, what destinations will be in highest demand and by whom?
We’ve studied the flight records of all large-cabin business jets for a three-year period. The most frequently trafficked routes are across the Atlantic, and the AS2 will be well suited for accomplishing these missions nonstop at a top speed of Mach 1.4, which is up to 65 percent faster than today’s business jets. Of course, today’s business travellers are flying to destinations all over the world. The AS2 can save as much as five hours across the Pacific, and significant amounts of time on every flight.
Will any special facilities and equipment be required for airports, FBOs or Jet Centres at these destinations?
No, we’ve designed the aircraft to be basically autonomous at business airports, as other large business jets are today: starting with an APU, fuelled with standard equipment, and positioned on the apron with normal towing equipment.
Long range supersonic flights such as Los Angeles to Sydney mean passing through several time zones in a short time. Will there be any problems with jetlag for passengers or crews?
Fewer problems than on slower jets simply because flight times will be shorter, but crossing time zones does affect the body. One option on the LA to Sydney route would be a high-speed dash to Hawaii or other mid-Pacific location, with an overnight stop to adjust to the shift in time zone, then another high-speed dash to Sydney, arriving within a few hours of a nonstop subsonic jet, but far more rested and ready for business.
On trans-Atlantic routes when only a meeting or two are waiting at the destination, day trips are feasible, essentially eliminating problems with jetlag.
Looking back at your career one would tend to say you have a ‘hypersonic mindset’. You must have been inspired by something or someone? Is this your dream come true? Please tell us a little about your feelings and emotions on this.
My father took me to see the one and only flight of Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose. It was awe inspiring to see that giant aircraft lift off the water. That was one inspiration. In grad school at Cal Tech, I had this idea that supersonic laminar flow could lead to breakthroughs in high-speed efficiency. I’ve been lucky to attract interest in this concept from DARPA and NASA and Aerion’s Chairman, investor Bob Bass, and also to work with brilliant people along the way, including a younger generation of smart aerodynamicists and engineers. So, absolutely, this marvellous journey has been a dream come true.