Mach 1 for Millionaires
Briefcase-toting suits who travel in bizjets-those will be the next pioneers in supersonic flight.
- By Mark Huber
- Air & Space magazine, March 2006
NASA Langley Research Center
(Page 4 of 9)
Forstmann installed its own CEO to run the company and Allen Paulson retreated to the world of thoroughbred horse racing and other investments.
Although Paulson was out of aviation day-to-day, the idea of a supersonic bizjet “was never far off his mind,” according to Clay Lacy. By the mid-1990s he began having regular conversations with engineers and managers at Lockheed’s Advanced Development Programs plant (the Skunk Works) in Palmdale, California. One of them was a program manager named Tom Hartmann.
In 1998 Lacy flew Paulson up to Palmdale for a meeting with Hartmann and Ed Glasgow, Lockheed’s vice president for advanced development programs. Having successfully launched the G-V, Gulfstream was again able to devote modest resources to supersonic research, this time in partnership with Lockheed and with $20 million in federal support. Lacy recalls the meeting: “They told us they had technology to suppress the sonic boom but gave no great detail.”
Paulson died in 2000, and by that time, Lockheed and Gulfstream had parted ways. Gulfstream brought its supersonic research in-house. But Paulson’s estate designated funds in trust for the design of a supersonic business jet. In 2001, Paulson’s son, Michael, himself a veteran of the bizjet industry, formed SAI and hired Lockheed to conduct feasibility and design studies for a small supersonic business jet. For three years a team of up to 40 engineers ran through $25 million doing just that.
The result is the Quiet Supersonic Transport (QSST), and SAI announced the program at NBAA in 2004. Its designers claimed that its patented sonic boom suppression technology gives it a boom signature less than one percent of the Concorde’s.
The Aerion also debuted at NBAA in 2004, and it made another appearance in 2005—with a number of modifications, including the rounding of the wings’ leading edges where they meet the wing strake. “A straight edge created too much shock in our wind tunnel tests, and detracted from the aircraft’s laminar flow capabilities,” said Richard Tracy, Aerion’s chief technology officer, at the company’s press conference at the NBAA convention (see “The Challenger,” p. 45). The aircraft will be powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 engines (also found on the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series), which will provide Mach 1.6 cruise.
While these engines may be quiet enough, questions of durability remain. With the exception of the Concorde’s earth-shaking, fuel-ravenous Olympus engines, no civilian jet engine has ever demonstrated robustness at sustained supersonic speeds. Indeed, even most military engines have upper thermal limits, as they typically are thrown into afterburner for only a few minutes at a time. However, the Air Force’s F-22A Raptor is equipped with Pratt & Whitney F119 engines and has the ability to supercruise—to fly at supersonic speeds for long periods of time—without the noise and high fuel consumption of an afterburner.
Other than its smaller size, the Aerion, unlike the QSST, contains no specific boom suppression or reduction technology. Because regulations prohibit supersonic flight over land, a potential competitor of Aerion’s questions the aircraft’s market appeal. “High subsonic overland does not make sense” for a supersonic business jet, says Gulfstream’s Henne.