A. The Aerion SBJ is an 8-12 passenger aircraft designed for maximum efficiency and flexibility, thanks to the application of Aerion's patented low-sweep, thin wing, primarily characterized by extensive natural laminar flow (NLF). The SBJ design uses a proven engine based on the Pratt & Whitney JT8D-200 series, along with current best-in-class materials and systems as used in large subsonic business jets. It will herald a return to supersonic civil flight without Concorde's environmental and economic drawbacks.
A. The Aerion SBJ will fly at speeds up to Mach 1.6, but is optimized for cruise at both high subsonic and supersonic speeds. Other large business aircraft have long-range cruise speeds around Mach .80, and a few of the latest high-end bizjets can reach Mach .85 to .90, but at reduced efficiency and range. Contrast that with Aerion's best range speed of Mach .95, the fastest in the industry and one of its dual "sweet spots" with over 4,000 nm IFR range (the other is just below Mach 1.5).
A. Aerion has used internal and contract engineering resources throughout the design to date, but major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are presently reviewing Aerion's technology, design and SBJ market surveys. The company has also collaborated closely with NASA during the last decade on a series of flight tests (most recently in early 2013), along with engine supplier Pratt & Whitney.
A. The Aerion SBJ will be brought to market through the formation of a joint venture (JV), which will include an established aircraft manufacturer. Once this JV has done its due diligence and announced a "hard launch," we anticipate a six-year development program. Since formation of a JV has been slowed by the recession of 2008 and its aftermath, we believe the SBJ will be certified and enter service around the end of the decade.
A. One of the advantages of the Aerion SBJ design is that it makes maximum use of proven engines, systems and materials technologies, unlike other designs that have come and gone, largely because they were predicated on major propulsion developments and/or regulatory accommodations. Neither is likely to take place in the foreseeable future. In contrast, the Aerion SBJ does not require any change in existing noise and emissions regulations nor development of any new technologies. That being said, Aerion's advantages flow from its natural laminar flow wing technology. With its sharp leading edge, low sweep and low thickness-to-chord ratio, NLF technology is fundamentally different from conventional turbulent flow wings, and thus represents a technological departure from prior supersonic practice. Validating this technology has been the primary focus of Aerion's decade-long collaboration with NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, and other company-funded tests (see below).
A. As mentioned earlier, conventional bizjets operate at roughly half the speed of the Aerion SBJ, and their maximum speeds are well below our most efficient subsonic long-range cruise speed of Mach .95. As for other supersonic business aircraft, only one has been announced previously and has since gone dark. Only Aerion has completed advanced design, conducted multiple phases of wind tunnel and NASA flight testing, chosen a proven engine, complies with existing Federal Aviation Administration and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requirements, patented numerous applications of supersonic natural laminar flow, as well as stayed highly visible at the EBACE and NBAA trade shows and in the bizav media. While the rest of the industry hopes for progress in low-boom technology and regulations, Aerion has adopted the most efficient and sensible "No boom" approach described below.
A. Aerion has received letters of intent (LOI) for roughly 50 aircraft from a mix of individuals and corporations around the world. These LOI holders have secured a future delivery slot with a refundable deposit, which is held in escrow and not used for the operation of Aerion. It is noteworthy that the number of orders has remained largely intact throughout the recession, reinforcing the market demand for this aircraft.
A. The Aerion SBJ has the potential to be a real "time machine," enabling its passengers to save hours on a variety of medium- to long-distance routes. For these individuals and corporations, time truly is money and the increased productivity of supersonic speed will easily offset the acquisition and operation costs.
A. Recent significant gains in subsonic range and efficiency (primarily through propulsion advances) are unlikely to be repeated in the next generation of aircraft. And even if they are, they won't be exclusive to any one manufacturer. Therefore, the only remaining discriminator is speed, delivered through a dramatic reduction in aerodynamic drag.
A. Aerion has conducted numerous low- and high-speed wind tunnel tests over previous years, as well as a series of flight tests with NASA during the past decade. The early 2013 flights of a new test article aboard NASA's F-15B were designed to look at issues of surface quality robustness associated with manufacturing and operational tolerances to ensure that large extents of natural laminar flow can be achieved and maintained in normal flight operations. Once a joint venture is formed and there is a hard launch of the program, the SBJ will go through a fairly conventional six-year development and certification program prior to entry into service. In the meantime, a significant amount of preliminary design work has been conducted to satisfy potential partners and customers that this approach is eminently realistic.
A. Wind tunnels are useful, especially in the subsonic regime. However, at supersonic speeds extraneous noise is generated by the tunnel that can compromise the precision of the data we need to gather, particularly with respect to natural laminar flow behavior. In this regard, Aerion carried out a long campaign (2004-2008) of testing in the European Transonic Wind Tunnel (ETW). The first phase established that, unlike other high Reynolds number supersonic tunnels, ETW's flow quality enabled NLF transition results closely matching those of flight experiments up to Mach 1.4. The second phase of the campaign was to test a wing-like surface at full-scale Reynolds numbers up to Mach 1.35, confirming the predicted full-chord NLF at supersonic speed. To achieve reliable NLF data at higher Mach numbers, and without the artificially high pressure and cryogenic temperatures used in the ETW, flying test articles on supersonic aircraft is necessary. Our flight tests with NASA Dryden and our supersonic inlet work with NASA Glenn are both covered through Space Act Agreements where no money changes hands, i.e., each partner covers its own costs.
A. The Aerion SBJ is priced at $80 million in 2007 year-dollars. While we couldn't comment on what a charter or fractional operator might charge, our data show that operating costs over a given distance are comparable to other business aircraft in the super mid-size class, and less than those of some ultra-large or long-range business jets.
A. The Aerion SBJ will comply with all current and projected noise and emissions regulations, thanks in part to its efficient natural laminar flow wing and proven engine. The plane has been designed to have handling qualities similar to current large subsonic business jets, with a 120 kts (138 mph) approach speed at end of mission and a flat approach attitude, eliminating the need for a Concorde-like "drooped nose" or artificial vision systems requiring special FAA approval. The SBJ will efficiently cruise just below Mach 1.0 over U.S. territory where all supersonic flight is banned, increase to "Mach Cutoff" (about Mach 1.15) for boom-less cruise over other populated regions, as allowed in other countries by ICAO policy, and fly up to Mach 1.6 above open water and uninhabited land areas. This highly flexible speed-range mission capability is a major differentiator between Aerion's SBJ and other proposals.
A. Aerion has had several meetings at the top level of the Federal Aviation Administration and also at the full board of the Seattle Region, who are presently assigned responsibility for the SBJ certification. After seeing our full technical brief and understanding that we do not seek relief on any FAR Part 25 (transport aircraft) or Part 36 (noise) regulations, they could see no unusual difficulties. Aerion expects to implement "fly-by-wire" technology, which is being incorporated in virtually all of the large subsonic business jets under development, mainly to meet FAR Part 25 reliability requirements. This is synergistic for Aerion, as it will enhance the handling of the SBJ over the full Mach range.
A. No, the use of a proven engine and other major systems does not present a challenge to airports or fixed-base operators. Moreover, the SBJ will have a 6,000 foot maximum balanced field length for takeoffs and landings, and a wet runway landing distance of less than 3,460 feet (1,524 meters). Thus, it will be able to operate efficiently from business-friendly, smaller local airports like Teterboro and London City to avoid the congested and less convenient airline hubs. One unusual feature of the Aerion SBJ is its length of about 148 feet, which will require care in maneuvering on smaller airport ramps and large facilities for storage or maintenance.
A. Time certainly is the obvious benefit and that has economic value. But the application of proven technology to power progress is also compelling. The fact is that the step from Mach .80 to .92 in business aviation took 30 years to achieve with only a further 0.005 gain eked out during the last 20 years. Aerion can deliver Mach 1.6 by the end of this decade. "Speed" is the inevitable future of business and commercial aviation. The essential impetus underlying Aerion's supersonic development has been speed with practicality and efficiency. These are essential qualifiers for speed to be useable and not merely a stunt. The NLF wing is the key enabler of both qualities, and the supersonic efficiency improvement it brings will enable longer range and arguably lower operating cost per mile than subsonic aircraft.
A. Two consecutive market surveys commissioned by Aerion in recent years, plus other independent studies, show a potential market exceeding 400 SBJs during the first 15 years of service. A relatively stable SBJ "order book" of letters of intent throughout the recent recession and anecdotal evidence collected at major industry events confirm the demand for this new class of business jet is real and sustained. From the mid-90s until the recent down-turn, the Cessna Citation-X, with its Mach 0.92 maximum speed, was a standout product, selling at a roughly 40 percent price premium to its slower competitors with similar cabin and range.
A. No credible competitive concept has presented itself at this early stage, although a couple of major OEMs have continued to study the concept and profess intention to proceed when the "market is ready." Moreover, Aerion believes its full compliance with all relevant noise, emissions and sonic boom regulations will inoculate the SBJ against more radical proposals, which require the development of new technologies and major changes to regulations.
A. Concorde attracted time-conscious customers throughout its history, despite a limited operational envelope dictated by its highly swept "double delta" turbulent wing design. The fact that no supersonic jet was in operation upon Concorde's retirement not only represents a step away from progress, it created a gap in a valued service. Aerion's design will use state-of-the-art, proven systems and materials to create a flexible business jet, one that can travel efficiently more than 4,000 nm at a variety of speeds from high subsonic through supersonic. Concorde's wing technology could not support such varied missions, and its engines required a waiver of noise regulations, and thus Concorde was limited to a few trans-oceanic routes. Aerion technology is scalable to Concorde size and larger.
A. The Mach 1.6 figure is driven by operating limitations of our virtually off-the-shelf FAA certified engine, as well as the desire to stay within the certification limits of current business jet state-of-the-art materials and systems. Remember that at Mach 2.0, the peak temperature is about 250 degrees Fahrenheit and special materials need to be employed (or conventional materials would experience knock-downs in allowable strength). At Mach 1.6, the SBJ will still be roughly twice as fast as today's fastest civil air travel, while maximum temperatures are only about 140 degrees Fahrenheit, well within the operating envelope of all current materials and systems.
A. We don't believe so because of the massive challenges associated with propulsion design and maturity, environmental impact, material science and civil aviation regulation. By contrast, Aerion firmly believes that a highly efficient and flexible SBJ leveraging proven technology and systems, and in compliance with all regulations, represents the most realistic approach to decreasing flight times in the foreseeable future.
A. Despite a challenging macroeconomic climate, now is a logical time for business jet OEMs to consider SBJ development. Declining demand has made competition in most sectors intense. More products than market appetite could cause some OEMs to shrink or even disappear. One of these could see the SBJ as a way to cement or change its corporate trajectory; the first to market with a viable SBJ will hold a nearly insuperable advantage.