Friday, March 28, 2008
Super Sonic - The next step for aviation
I love my job. I work around some of the greatest and most technologically advanced machines ever created. The aviation market has produced some beautiful and powerful machines. I work mostly with the business aircraft that carry 4-12 passengers. I have my favorites: Cessna's Citation 10, Beechcraft King Air 350, and the Lear 45. But even with these amazing aircraft coming in and out all day, I greatly look forward to the day when I see my first Super Sonic Business Jet. Called SSBJs, They have been in the works for a couple years now. The leading contenders are Supersonic Aerospace International's (SAI) QSST (Quiet Super Sonic Transport), and Aerion. SAI has the benefit of getting all of its design from Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works. This is the same team that developed the F-22 raptor, and the F-35 Lightning II. Their design is a highly impressive looking aircraft that boasts speeds up to Mach 1.8. SAI doesn't have the backing of a team like Skunk Works, but they boast of over 22 new patents that boost super sonic performance and fuel economy. Gulfstream and Cessna are also thinking about building SSBJ's, but their plans aren't as far developed.
The biggest obstacle in making a SSBJ, is the issue with Sonic Booms. This isn't the feeling in your gut after eating at the drive up fast food chain. According to US Law and law in many other locations of the world, it is illegal to break the sound barrier over land because of how disruptive it can be (I've heard that they used to break the sound barrier over Wright-Patterson and it often would shatter the large living room windows in Dayton). SAI believes that they have found a solution to this barrier. Through advanced technology they have developed ways to reduce the force of a sonic boom. They claimed it would sound about as loud as a car traveling 70 mph on the freeway from 100 yards. The company believes that when they can prove to the FAA that sonic booms don't have to "boom", then they will gain the ability to fly supersonic over land too. Until then they will still travel at Mach .99 which is much faster than the .85 Mach of the fastest business jets today. One of the contenders claimed it could even travel just over the sound barrier without producing a Sonic Boom that would reach the ground. Which of course would be even better for those time crunching business people.
Why do we need a super sonic business jet? I don't, but there are some business people who could greatly benefit from going to London and back from NYC within a day, and still have a solid day of work in London. One website claimed that a group could leave Paris at 8AM for a breakfast meeting in NY. It is amazing. A flight around the world to Dubai would save up to 14 hours. The other reason is the more obvious one: because we can. The business aircraft industry has been virtually stagnant for the past 40 years. Yes, newer technology has made business jets quieter, more fuel efficient, etc, but there haven't been any major advancements. This is the next big step, and corporate carriers are ready.
Orders have been made. The first SSBJ's will be built between 2011 and 2013. At that time, the FAA will certify it, and they could be mass produced by as soon as 2015. That would be cool. Until then, I'll keep pumping gas into the plain old multi-million dollar Gulfstreams, Lears, Citations, and Falcons.