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Muhammed Yılmaz

Is It A Dream To Fly Faster Than Sound Again?

Issue 9 - 2021
Is It A Dream To Fly Faster Than Sound Again?

Since the last commercial flight with Concorde on October 24, 2003, almost all aviation enthusiasts have dreamed of the launch of Concorde 2.0 and its relaunch of supersonic flights.

During the race that has been going on for 18 years to start a new era of supersonic jet, many projects have been initiated. But somehow they all failed. The bad news recently from the Aerion AS2 made us think that reaching the target of supersonic flights was impossible. Is that really so?

AS2 Would Open the Door to the New Era! 

One of the companies believed to be the closest to the relaunch of supersonic travels was Aerion Supersonic Corporation. The model the company was working on, the AS2, was a business jet, not a commercial aircraft, and it was getting prepared for becoming a revolutionary that would make people fly faster than sound again!

Being the first supersonic aircraft put into commercial service after 51 years, the Aerion AS2 was the world's first supersonic business jet candidate as well. It intended to cut travel times down by around 50 percent. Aerion had previously announced that around US$ 4 billion would need to be raised to initiate the production of the AS2, and US$ 1 billion would be spent only for engine development.

Boeing and Spirit Aerosystems, the investors of AS2, the first production of which was planned to be made in 2023 and the first flight in 2024, with a speed of 1.4 Mach and to be sold for US$ 120 million, were planning to make an investment worth $300 million to establish the final assembly line in Melbourne, Florida, for the business jet that had been developed for ten years. But it didn't happen!

Boeing-backed supersonic jet start-up Aerion has officially ceased all activities of the supersonic business jet program, which it has been developing for years, after struggling to secure the necessary financial investment. Those who were waiting for the next generation version of the legendary Concorde were greatly disappointed with this latest development.

Things appeared to be going well…

Founded by billionaire businessman Robert Bass in 2004, Aerion managed to attract significant investments from major investors and partners, including Lockheed Martin. It also secured a contract with General Electric for the supply of the supersonic jet’s engine.

Last March, Aeron received an order from NetJets for 20 AS2s. In addition, it started to work with NetJets and professional aviation training provider FlightSafety International to develop a supersonic flight training academy to train pilots for civil, commercial and military supersonic aircraft. In 2015, Flexjet had placed an order for 20 AS2s worth US$ 2.4 billion.

Designed to fly at supersonic speeds over water, the AS2 was configured for high subsonic or ultrasonic flight over land, at around Mach 0.96, in most countries where sonic booms are banned. The original design was morphed from twinjet to trijet in 2014.

Aerion Also Announced its AS3!

Last March, Aerion released the first image of the concept design of the AS3 model, which is designed to enter service at the end of the 2020s. The company announced that AS3 will cruise at speeds closer to the hypersonic region (5 Mach+).

As it is considered impossible to raise the capital needed for the production of AS2, the project has been surprisingly put on ice, though AS2 was planned to be the pioneer of the supersonic market -a new segment of general aviation, met all market, technical, regulatory and sustainability requirements, and it already received orders worth US$ 11.2 billion. As a result of this development, the same question has been in everyone's mind. Is it a dream for humans to fly faster than sound again?

The Only Hope Left: Boom!

Aerion, despite its high-profile supporters, was lagging behind its biggest rival in the race to pave the way for supersonic travels. Denver-based Boom made a big hit with the supersonic aircraft model Overture, by producing the one-third scale model XB-1 as the "Baby Boom".

Featuring a 26-metre-long carbon composite body and three GE-designed J85-15 engines, the XB-1 aroused high level of excitement for Overture. This prototype, which has a wingspan of 5.2 meters, has received critical acclaim for its "ergonomically designed" cockpit, which gives particular importance to the comfort of the pilots. While the XB-1 only has a range of around 1,000 nautical miles, it will be used as a testbed for supersonic technologies to be used in Overture.

The target for Overture, which has a passenger capacity of 65-88 people, is to complete the certification process by 2029 and make the first commercial flight in 2030.

United's announcement to purchase 15 Overtures at the beginning of June has gotten all hopes up that supersonic travel would one day be realized again.

Is Concorde 2.0 Possible?

It is for sure that if the next generation supersonic jets are launched, the problems that caused the withdrawal of Concorde from service must be fixed! Elimination of sonic booms over the territory of countries at a sound speed (Mach 1.0 or 767 mph) that impedes supersonic flight. Tolerance for excessive fuel consumption, which is the natural consequence of flying faster than sound, and its economic and environmental consequences. As weight is almost everything for an airplane, setting ticket prices and creating demand to make flights commercially profitable due to limited passenger carrying capacity and reduced cabin interior design. Finally, reaching a consensus by hundreds of countries on setting the standards for supersonic flights. Designers, engineers and companies have an answer to all such barriers to supersonic aircraft. 

Boom plans to develop a 40-50-seat passenger aircraft and fly it with sustainable aviation fuel and biofuel. California-based Exosonic is trying something similar for its 70-seat airplane. Boston-based Spike Aerospace is focusing on an 18-passenger business jet with proprietary technology that it claims will keep sonic boom at the level of vacuum cleaner. Recently, it even received FAA approval for limited testing of its design.

What every manufacturer aspiring to deal with noise, fuel inefficiency, and many other major technical issues needs most is unquestionably the cash. The most concrete example of this is the Aerion and AS2 project. In other words, if we could fly faster than sound one day, cash would definitely be the key.

Speed or Comfort?

Another group approaches the launch of supersonic flights cautiously. They believe that passengers traveling on airplanes with huge improvements in premium cabins, large seats and privacy compartments would not compromise on travel comfort just to cut the flight time by half. If supersonic jets are launched, travelers will have to give up the pleasant travel experience they have by sitting on a wide seat that can be converted into a full, flat bed and watching the content on a big screen.

So let's see how the ongoing battle for supersonic flights will end... 

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