WRITTEN BY SOMNATH CHATTERJEE
Supersonic air travel always had an allure to it thanks to the Concorde as travelling in luxury at twice the speed of sound had captured the attention of the whole world when it was first revealed many years ago. The iconic shape and speed of the Concorde made it the natural choice for the rich and famous during its near 30 year reign. It travelled at speeds which was unthinkable for a conventional jet and covered the distance in half the
time. The Concorde showed the world that supersonic air travel was indeed possible and very much a part of the future.
Unfortunately, supersonic air travel had its own fair share of problems like the sonic boom it produced and the environmental concerns stemming from its massive thirst to the cost of operating one. The Concorde was never a commercial success and only a few were produced while supersonic jets were deemed as unsuitable hence not surprisingly, till now conventional jets have ruled both commercial and private aviation. However, a new battle has been brewing up in the skies lately with supersonic air travel making a comeback with many technological upgrades.
The front runner in orchestrating the return of supersonic air travel is Aerion, a Reno, Nevada based company as its AS2 promises supersonic travel but also being carbon neutral along with having a boom-less cruise. The AS2 then would be the first supersonic commercial business to enter the market and claims to fly up to 70 percent faster than today’s business jets. Hence, it can fly at speeds of up to Mach 1.4 or approximately 1,000 miles per hour while having a 4,200NM supersonic range and a 5,400NM subsonic range. That means the AS2 will save approximately three hours on a transatlantic flight or fly from New York to London in about 4.5 hours. The ability to shrink time and reduce flying time is what the AS2 promises but unlike the Concorde, there are not after effects.
For example, it would be the first aircraft to fly supersonic without having the sonic boom reaching the ground. The AS2 uses a technology called as Boomless Cruise autopilot mode and that is used between Mach 1.0-1.2 speeds. It basically removes sonic boom due to an atmospheric phenomenology called Mach Cut Off where the sonic boom refracts off dense layers of air. Also on the agenda is a clear environmental focus as the AS2 does without an afterburner and has low emissions plus it would also use only 100 percent biofuels or synthetic fuels.
In terms of luxury, the Aerion AS2 would be a 12-seater business jet and would be fitted with all the creature comforts imaginable. The cabin design is modern and luxurious while there is a distinct futuristic theme running across the design philosophy. Aerion calls it “sustainable luxury” and it even gets a fully functional kitchen along with OLED interior lighting plus a pure digital interface. Suffice to say the A2 fits the tag of a business jet while having the ability to go a lot faster than anything else.
The design of the AS2 is also sleek and Aerion has considerably honed and fettled the design from its concept reveal in 2004. It is also wider than a conventional jet and has a different look or set of dimensions when compared to a typical business jet. While meeting the challenges revolving around supersonic air travel will not be easy for Aerion, the company is on track and has partners like Boeing and GE Aviation providing crucial support.
Around 300 AS2 aircraft is planned for the first decade of production while the AS2 would also be the first aircraft to be assembled at the company’s new headquarters in Melbourne, Florida – Aerion Park, starting in 2023.
With the AS2 completing wind tunnel tests, the order books are already full as NetJets has just recently ordered 20 AS2’s being valued at roughly $120 million each. Hence the future seems bright again for supersonic air travel as many are betting big on Aerion and while the question remains whether the AS2 would be as iconic as the Concorde; one thing is for sure, it is going to disrupt the private aviation industry unlike any other.