It was in 2004 at the annual National Business Aviation Association convention that billionaire Robert Bass unveiled plans for a new supersonic business jet (SBJ): the Aerion. Now at this year's NBAA, Airbus has stepped into a partnership with Aerion to literally get this project off the ground.
Most modern business and commercial jets and cruise at about Mach 0.85, which Aerion says "is like using dial-up in a broadband world." In case you've forgotten, Airbus was involved in the creation of the legendary Concorde, (as well as its retirement) which flew its last revenue flight on November 26, 2003. The Concorde was and remains to this day the only supersonic air transport for civilians. But by 2021, they think you'll be able to own a personal mini Concorde, for a little over $100 Million. Airbus is sending engineering staff to Reno, Nevada, where they'll share their brilliant engineering minds and office space with the Aerion team.
The plane is expected to hit a top speed of Mach 1.6, but cruising speed will be Mach 1.4 over water, and Mach 0.95 over land, because civilian planes aren't allowed to break the Sound Barrier over land in many parts of the world. The 3-engined plane is expected to have a range of 4,750 nautical miles at its top speed, although engine specs are still being determined.
Aside from its striking profile, one of the most interesting design aspects of the plane is its non-traditional wing. It's not a traditional swept design, but rather something called a modified bi-convex airfoil, with slight curves both above and below the wing. The airframe itself will be carbon fiber composite, with titanium allow along the wings' leading edges. Aerion's chief technology officer, Dr. Richard R. Tracy is one of the world's foremost experts in supersonic natural laminar flow (SNLF), and the company has done research in collaboration with NASA's Armstrong Flight Center.
Will we actually see these planes? I think so. A recent market survey showed that there's a market for over 600 SBJs within the next twenty years, and now with Airbus' backing, it's almost a sure thing. From this arrangement, Airbus will benefit from Aerion's SNLF knowledge and be able to apply that to their own aircraft designs, and hopefully a new supersonic commercial airliner at some point in the future.