General Electric has completed initial design work on an engine for Aerion, the companies announced Monday, a significant step forward toward its goal of developing a supersonic business jet. The engine will be a twin-shaft, twin-fan turbofan that will ...
An illustration of Aerion's planned supersonic business jet.Martin Deja
General Electric has completed initial design work on an engine for Aerion, the companies announced Monday, a significant step forward toward its goal of developing a supersonic business jet.
The engine will be a twin-shaft, twin-fan turbofan that will meet the stringent landing and takeoff noise requirements that will come into force at the end of 2022, said Brad Mottier, GE Aviation’s head of business and general aviation, at the National Business Aviation Association convention in Orlando. Amid concerns over the environmental impact of the high fuel burn of supersonic flight, Aerion CEO Tom Vice said the Aerion AS2’s emissions will also be 20% to 50% better than current standards for the aircraft class.
Aerion is developing the 12-passenger plane in concert with Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works division. David Richardson, Skunk Works’ director of air vehicle design, said that the finalization of the engine specs allows for Skunk Works to move on from conceptual work to developing a prelimary design, and he sees no major technical hurdles ahead. “There are no showstoppers, there are no technologies that have to be invented for us to get to where we need to be to make this airplane happen.”
The plane is designed to have a range of 4,200 nautical miles at Mach 1.4, and the companies are working to develop the ability to fly supersonic up to Mach 1.2 over land without a sonic boom hitting the ground.
The FAA will begin collecting data as early as the end of 2020 to study permitting supersonic flight over land, but Aerion says their business case isn’t predicated on any changes to existing regulations. “The AS2 is responsibly efficient subsonic and supersonic,” said Vice.
Aerion is a passion project for billionaire Robert Bass, who’s financially supported the company to date. Vice said that suppliers are also investing in the program and there have been discussions with third-party investors. Debt and equity offerings could come after the company completes the preliminary design process in June 2020, he said.
Aerion plans to make a first flight in 2023. The list price is $120 million, almost two times more expensive than the most expensive large business jets. It’s not clear what the market will be for greater speed at such a high price.
Aerion expects to sell 100 aircraft over 10 years and 500 in total.
Rolland Vincent told Forbes before Monday’s announcement that there’s a market for the plane. “The high net-worth population is growing. is there a need to go fast long haul? Absolutely,” Vincent said.
“It’s probably the most intriguing aircraft we talk to owners and operators about, they sit up.”
Vincent estimates the market starts at about 35 aircraft a year; his 20-year forecast is about 700 supersonic aircraft a year.
Aerion is planning to move up to commercial airliners, though the company doesn’t think it will look like current ones. “Do you really have to carry 55, a hundred or 300 people?” asked Vice. “We think there’s a variant of an airliner that carries the first-class cabin.”
The high cost of engine development and the likely thinness of the market, at least to start, make the engine a tricky balancing act for Aerion and the other supersonic aircraft aspirants, Boom and Spike, leading to a reduction in speed from initial plans. The GE engine class, dubbed Affinity, is based on a core adapted from GE’s airliner engine portfolio. It’s the first supersonic engine developed in 55 years since the Concorde.
GE's planned Affinity supersonic engineCourtesy of General Electric
Mottier said it was a tall order to come up with a design that could be efficient in both supersonic and subsonic flight, with two years on conceptual work to thread that needle.
“It’s a hybrid between how you get your efficiency on an airliner and a fighter engine,” he said.
Given the small number of aircraft envisioned by Aerion, GE Aviation isn’t going ahead with the project just for that company alone. “We don’t view this as one application,” Mottier said.
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