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RENO BASED Aerion Corp are in the business of supersonic corporate aviation solutions, their SBJ (supersonic business jet) is a concept first revealed in 2007. The 8-12 seat jet would be powered by Pratt and Whitney JT8D-200 series turbofans currently earmarked to replace the ageing TF-33s on the USAF’s E8 Sentry fleet but military bugdet cuts have threatened that programme and in turn, the SBJ’s.

At the NBAA in Orlando last week, Aerion revealed that while their priority remains on the SBJ, other manufacturers have expressed an interest in applying Aerion’s research to their own business aircraft to boost cruise speeds and efficiency but remain below the sound barrier. The employment of elements of the wing and fuselage design to slower aircraft could produce a worthy competitor to current market leaders from Cessna and Gulfstream.

Aerion also revealed that they have looked into, and identified, possible alternative powerplants. The chief requirement for the powerplant is a relatively low by-pass ratio; inefficient at subsonic speeds, but ideal for the SBJ’s Mach 1.6 cruise. In the meantime, they have resumed laminar flow research and testing using a modified NASA F-15 after an extended freeze on development during one of the toughest spells for business aviation.

Aerion first commissioned the use of a NASA F-15 to test laminar flow of a section of their aerofoil in 2010. The component, which is attached perpendicular to the lower fuselage, revealed positive characteristics in the first phase of tests two years ago.

Amongst Aerion’s concerns will be the sonic boom characteristics of the aerofoil. To counteract the restrictions in place over many countries, where supersonic flight is banned, the company claim the aircraft will cruise efficiently at mach 0.99; approximately 10% faster than current business jets such as the Citation X. Whilst the design meets current noise stipulations, there is no guarantee that it will meet future ones, with no indications of the outlines of eventual regulations.

Bolstered by over 50 commitments (including down payments) for the aircraft, Aerion is the most advanced of a number of supersonic business jet projects. Business aviation has proven to be the sector with the most interest in Supersonic transport after the airline industry shunned projects such as Boeing’s Sonic Cruiser in the early 2000’s. The programme remains tentatively scheduled to seeing first delivery of the SBJ in either the end of this decade or the beginning of the next. Current commitments are believed to have been signed on the principle of an “early-delivery” rather than an actual date, much in the same way as some luxury cars. Whether or not the SBJ is actually built has yet to be determined. As it stands, early customers may see their down payments lost, or transferred to other projects, but with many having personal wealth estimates in the hundreds of millions, the relatively meagre $250,000 deposit will be just a drop in the ocean.

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