Airbus is to help start-up Aerion with design, manufacture and certification of a supersonic business jet, aiming for availability of the $100 million-plus aircraft in 2021.

Reno, Nevada-based Aerion says the engineering collaboration with Airbus Defense & Space Group “marks a huge leap forward to being a program that will result in an aircraft that will be on the market in the not too distant future.”

“Both companies have made a substantial commitment of resources,” says Aerion CEO Doug Nichols, while declining to provide details of the commercial agreement. “We have an agreement to share resources,” says Airbus.

Airbus will locate senior engineering staff with the Aerion design team in Reno to provide expertise in aerodynamics, structures, fly-by-wire flight controls and certification planning. “They will cover the full spectrum of technical and industrial disciplines needed,” says Nichols.

The size of the Airbus team has yet to be defined, but most will come from the military aircraft division, says the European manufacturer. Nichols says Aerion’s engineering workload will ramp up beginning in 2016.

“Aerion’s technology is of interest to Airbus, and this agreement provides Aerion with access to Airbus Group skills in disciplines that will move the program solidly towards commercialization,” he says. A market survey early this year showed a market for more than 600 aircraft over 20 years.

Aerion was formed in 2002 to develop aircraft using supersonic natural laminar flow technology, pioneered by Dr Richard Tracy, and able to cruise more efficiently at supersonic and subsonic speeds.

The aircraft has two cruise design points where range and efficiency are at a maximum: Mach 1.4 for flight over water, and over land where supersonic flight is permitted; and Mach 0.95 where supersonic flight over land is prohibited.

In countries where civil supersonic flight over land is permitted as long as there is no adverse sonic boom, the AS2 will be able to cruise at up to Mach 1.15-1.2 without the boom reaching the ground, Nichols says.

In March, Aerion switched to a larger three-engined design, the AS2, providing a range of at least 4,750 nm at Mach 1.6. and enabling the aircraft to meet lower Stage 5/Chapter 14 noise limits that take effect from 2018 for new designs.

Three engines, versus the two Pratt & Whitney JT8Dsin the original design, mean each engine operates at less than full thrust for takeoff, for lower noise, while providing longer overhaul life and greater hot-and-high performance margin.

Nichols says Aerion is now in the advanced design phase and focused on working with engine manufacturers to identify a core on which to develop an optimized low-bypass turbofan able to meet the supersonic life requirements.

“That is the major piece that is taking all of our attention, selecting a propulsion system that meets the needs of the aircraft,” he says. After that, the next steps will be selecting Tier 1 suppliers for systems and structures.

Since its formation, the company has been looking for an OEM to help develop and build, market and support its design. Nichols says the plan now is “this will be an Aerion program, with the substantial involvement of major industrial partners."

“Airbus Group brings all the necessary ingredients to move the aircraft out of development and into full-up commercialization,” he says. “There will be other participants, including the engine manufacturer and other major Tier 1s."

“We view this as the beginning of a broad industrial partnership, clearly led by Aerion, but with a deep commitment from Airbus and others,” Nichols says.

Financing is secured for the overall development program, which calls for a first flight in 2019 and certification in 2021, he says. “We are at the point in the program where we have, or will have shortly, all the essential pieces to close the equation.”
 
Graham Warwick, graham.warwick@aviationweek.com