Boeing steps up supersonic jet investment, sweeping aside Lockheed Martin partnership

 
 
Posted2/9/2019 6:00 AM
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  • Boeing has made a "significant investment" to help the Nevada-based jet start-up Aerion develop and commercialize a sleek, pointy-nosed supersonic business jet it is calling the AS2.

    Boeing has made a "significant investment" to help the Nevada-based jet start-up Aerion develop and commercialize a sleek, pointy-nosed supersonic business jet it is calling the AS2. Bloomberg photo by Matthew Lloyd

Boeing has made a "significant investment" to help the Nevada-based jet start-up Aerion develop and commercialize a sleek, pointy-nosed supersonic business jet it is calling the AS2, the companies announced this week.

An Aerion spokesman said that Boeing will gain two board seats as part of the investment, suggesting the Chicago-based aerospace giant is spending significant time and resources to acquire a long-term stake in the company. The precise terms of the investment were not disclosed.

The announcement came days after a contract between Aerion and Lockheed Martin had expired, a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman said. Lockheed Martin competes closely with Boeing in the defense aerospace market but has relatively little commercial business. The new partnership will give Aerion not only extra funding but also access to Boeing's engineering, manufacturing and flight test resources, which are more attuned to the commercial market.

"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," Boeing Vice President Steve Nordland said in a statement. Nordland was not available for an interview, a Boeing spokeswoman said.

The two companies are trying to create a market for supersonic air travel that has been absent since the Concorde, a European-made supersonic jet, was put to rest in 2003 amid spiraling costs and flagging sales. The two companies say the AS2 will be ready for first flight by 2023, after which they hope to usher in "a new era of supersonic travel." The company says it hopes to deliver 300 of them over the first decade of production.

Whether the two companies succeed, however, could depend as much on economics as it would on overcoming engineering challenges. The AS2, which seats 14 people, is priced at $120 million, roughly twice as much as the prevailing market price of business jets offered by General Dynamics' Gulfstream subsidiary.

Fuel-efficiency could become an obstacle, too, aerospace analysts say, as the high-powered engines required to operate at supersonic speeds would create extra costs for airlines. And the company's airline customers would be limited by a prohibition on over-land supersonic flight; the Federal Aviation Administration prohibits commercial supersonic flight because of the ear-shattering sonic booms that come with it.

Aerion intends to navigate those challenges by building its own advanced supersonic jet engine that is designed to be quieter and more efficient than prevailing supersonic engines, which it is building in partnership with GE Aviation.

The AS2 is designed to fly over land at speeds up to Mach 1.4, which is about 70 percent faster than today's prevailing business jets while topping 1,000 miles per hour. It's supersonic speeds would theoretically kick in as it travels over sea, possibly allowing for faster intercontinental flights.

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