Boeing Invests in Aerion Supersonic Business Jet

Boeing will provide financial, engineering and industrial resources for Aerion Supersonic to support the startup’s goal of building and test flying a business plane in 2023 that could fly at Mach 1.4 and cut hours off transoceanic flights.

The Nevada-based startup aims to build its AS2 business planes to fly at supersonic speeds over oceans, including the route between New York and London flown by the Concorde passenger planes that went out of service in 2003. Boeing NeXt, the company’s arm focused on next generation mobility announced in a press release on Tuesday that in addition to Boeing’s investment it would contribute flight-test resources, engineering, manufacturing and some parts for the business planes.

“Through this partnership that combines Aerion’s supersonic expertise with Boeing’s global industrial scale and commercial aviation experience, we have the right team to build the future of sustainable supersonic flight,” Steve Nordlund, general manager of Boeing NeXt said in the press release.

Aerion’s business plan for supersonic flights over oceans is shaped by restrictions against creating sonic booms over land. Pilots would have to fly these AS2 business planes at Mach .95 over land in the U.S., where passenger and cargo aircraft are banned from flying at supersonic speeds. These planes would be capable of cruising at Mach 1.2, during which Aerion says the noise of a sonic boom would not reach the ground. Pilots could fly an AS2 at Mach 1.4 over oceans, which Aerion says is 70 percent faster than most other business planes and could save three hours when flying from New York City to London.

A sonic boom caused by planes flying faster than Mach 1 can roll for 40 kilometers in any direction, causing noise pollution for people who live nowhere near the jet’s flight path. There are noise regulations in Europe restricting passenger and cargo aircraft from causing sonic booms over land, resulting in a de facto speed limit similar to the FAA’s restriction against flying faster than Mach 1 in U.S. airspace.

Boeing’s investment comes as other companies are designing and building planes to fly passengers around the world at supersonic speeds. Spike Aerospace of Massachusetts plans to build S-512 business jets to fly passengers over oceans at Mach 1.6. Colorado-based Boom Supersonic plans to build 55-seater planes that would fly passengers at Mach 2.2.

Noise reduction technology for supersonic airplanes could give regulators in the U.S. and Europe data to set certain conditions for civilian aircraft to fly faster than Mach 1 over land.  NASA plans to test fly its X-59 demonstrator to Mach 1.5 from 2022 through 2025 in the hope of reducing the noise of a sonic boom to a publicly acceptable “sonic thump” and survey the residents in nearby communities about the noise during the flights. The FAA and the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization would draw on the resulting survey data as part of their process to set standards for acceptable noise levels for commercial aircraft to fly supersonic over land.

The X-59 is being built for NASA by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works with a single General Electric F414 engine, the kind that powers F/A-18F fighter jets. The air frame of the X-59 is designed to space out air shockwaves to prevent them from combining to create a boom.