The commercial airline industry has been flying at 400-500 kts (460-575 mph) since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947. The world did see the British Aerospace Concorde built on 1960s Rolls-Royce turbojet technology, but its sonic boom, earth shattering take off noise, and high fuel consumption doomed it as a viable commercial enterprise.
Skunk Works & the “Boomless” Supersonic Jet
The world’s top aircraft designers at Skunk Works, part of Lockheed Martin, worked on developing a Supersonic Business Jet (SSBJ) from 2003 to 2010 in order to fill a strong demand in business and luxury markets. Skunk Works is known for its design of the SR-71 Blackbird, F-117 Stealth Fighter, FA-22 Raptor, and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The Quiet Supersonic Transport (QSST) was intended to be a 12 seat private jet designed to quietly break the sound barrier at 100 times quieter than the Concorde and reach speeds up to Mach 1.6, or 1,200 mph. At this speed, a New York to Los Angeles flight would take just over 2 hours instead of the current 6 hours.
Skunk Works developed the QSST under a $25 million contract from Supersonic Aerospace International (SAI) and designed it to fly at between 45,000 to 55,000 feet with a range of 4,600 miles, or about the distance from New York to Moscow. Also in mind was a plane to transport passengers between New York and Paris in just 2 hours and between Seattle and Tokyo in just five hours. The cost of one QSST was expected to be in the $80 to $100 million range.
In 2010, the project was put on hiatus as it became bogged down in licensing and patent disputes, suffered from the post-2007 financial crisis, and disagreements about the size of the plane. There were also problems related to the originally proposed aluminum-lithium fuselage and lack of progress on the development of a subsonic turbine engine adapted to supersonic aircraft. Today, SAI is seeking to bring together an international consortium of investors to raise $400 million for further advanced study and the possibility of a larger design.
The following video shows the QSST supersonic business jet concept from 2009 just before the project was suspended.
Aerion Supersonic Now Taking Orders for the AS2
In the meantime, Aerion Corporation, owned by Texas billionaire Robert Bass, has teamed up with Airbus to build a remarkably similar aircraft, the AS2 Supersonic Business Jet (SSBJ), which signals the next great advance in civil aviation. The company is now taking orders for the initial 50 planes which are priced at $120 million each.
Following are photos of the AS2. Visit Aerion Supersonic for more information.
The AS2 is shown in the following video: