Work on a historic airplane likely could be headed to the area’s aircraft suppliers.
Brian Barents, a Wichitan and executive chairman of Aerion Corp., said this week that it’s very likely some of the parts on the Nevada-based company’s AS2 supersonic business jet will be made by Wichita suppliers.
“This is an aviation community,” Barents said. “There’s a lot of aviation infrastructure that resides here in the community, and I would fully expect those companies that reside here are going to have an opportunity to play a role in the development of the airplane.”
The development of the AS2, which would be the world’s first supersonic business jet, received a major lift last week when Aerion announced a new partnership with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.
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The two companies entered into a formal agreement to explore the feasibility of joint development of the 12-passenger AS2. The agreement calls for Aerion and Lockheed to work together on a plan to engineer, certify and produce the $120 million jet. GE Aviation is developing the jet’s engines.
The memorandum of understanding is the result of extensive discussions between officials from Aerion and Lockheed’s Skunk Works unit — the California unit behind the development of the U2 and the supersonic SR-71 spyplanes.
“Following our initial review of Aerion’s aerodynamic technology, our conclusion is that the Aerion AS2 concept warrants the further investment of our time and resources,” said Orlando Carvalho, Lockheed Martin Aeronautices executive vice president, in a news release.
“I can’t think of anybody more qualified to partner with than Lockheed Martin,” Barents said, adding the Fort Worth-based company has “designed and produced more supersonic airplanes than anybody else in the world,” including the F-16, F-22 and F-35 fighter jets.
While the AS2 — expected to make its first flight in 2023 — likely will be manufactured by Lockheed, there will be ample opportunity for area suppliers to manufacture parts for the airplane, Barents said.
Those suppliers could include machine shops, Barents said. “It could be somebody here in town that does laminates, cabin windows.”
He suggested it’s an aircraft program that larger suppliers, such as Spirit AeroSystems, might be interested in, too.
Spirit spokesman Fred Malley said in an e-mailed statement that “supersonic air travel is a potential growth area for the industry and Spirit has capabilities that will be attractive to aircraft manufacturers.”
While “Spirit is always looking for new customers for its design and build expertise … we do not disclose private discussions with potential customers,” Malley said.