Aerion, Airbus Group to work together on supersonic jet technology

A rendering of the supersonic jet being devleoped by Aerion.
A rendering of the supersonic jet being devleoped by Aerion. Courtesy image

Airbus Group and Aerion, which is developing a multi-million supersonic business jet, will collaborate on the jet’s development and exchange knowledge and capabilities on design and certification.

For Aerion, it’s a major step forward in the advancement of the development and commercialization of its Aerion AS2 supersonic business jet.

“It’s a total game changer,” Brian Barents, Aerion’s vice-chairman, said of the arrangement. “I think we’ve been pretty consistent that the next big step was going to be the establishment of an industrial collaboration and a partner.”

Aerion officials knew it would take a well-established original equipment manufacturer to complete the project, he said.

“We couldn’t be more delighted with the choice of Airbus,” Barents said. “We think that their footprint around the world is clearly going to help us as we develop the airplane.”

Under the agreement, Airbus Group, through its Defence and Space division, will provide technical and certification support.

That will include the assignment of senior engineering staff to Aerion’s organization.

The two groups will work together at Aerion’s facilities in Reno, Nev.

“It puts us solidly on track toward our objective of certifying the world’s first supersonic jet in 2021,” Robert Bass, Aerion’s chairman and principal investor, said in a statement.

It’s too soon to say whether Airbus will be involved in manufacturing the plane, Barents said.

“We still haven’t determined that,” he said.

It’s also too soon to say whether Airbus’ design and engineering site in Wichita will be involved in the project, Barents said.

“We’ll leave that up to Airbus whether the disciplines and the availability are available to us during the time that would be needed,” Barents said. “That would be an Airbus call. Certainly, it’s a valuable resource. I would hope at some point they would be involved.”

Airbus did a thorough job of analyzing Aerion’s design tools that it’s developed over the past several years., Barents said.

Over the longer term, Aerion will provide proprietary technology and assistance to Airbus Group in its high-performance technology development, which include Aerion’s research, proprietary design tools and patented aerodynamic designs, the company said.

“They have exclusive rights to utilize those design tools as they look at developing their product line,” Barents said.

The plan is to certify the plane in 2021 with first delivery in 2022. Flight testing would begin in roughly 2019.

The plane will sell for roughly $110 million.

The cost depends upon which engines will be selected for the plane. Aerion is doing an analysis with three large engine manufacturers.

In May, Aerion announced that it had revamped the design of its supersonic jet to a larger-cabin, three-engine model that can fly farther.

The redesign was made to meet changes in the market, officials say.

A recent market study that assessed customer demand – especially in emerging markets such as Asia – found preferences for a corporate jet that can fly fast enough to break the sound barrier, while providing ample room and greater range.

Aerion significantly widened the cabin’s cross section and increased its range from 4,700 nautical miles to more than 5,000 nautical miles.

In the revamped design, the jet will have two “sweet spots” where range and efficiency are at a maximum, Aerion has said.

One is at about Mach 0.95, or 723 mph, in places where supersonic flight is prohibited.

The other is at a supersonic speed of Mach 1.4, or 1,066 mph. The plane is expected to have a maximum speed of Mach 1.6, or 1,218 mph.

The latest study also confirmed demand for more than 600 units over 20 years.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mmcmillin.