Home > Blog

Supersonic, The Future of Business Jets

It's been several years now since the Concorde ceased making flights between New York and London or Paris. But the demand for rapid long-range travel has never cooled. Fortunately, several entrepreneurs are well-positioned to meet that demand - with supersonic business jets.

Currently, the fastest business jet on the market is the Citation X. At 0.9 Mach it speeds along at 90% of the speed of sound (761 mi/hr), putting its top speed around 685 mph (1102 kph). But that is top speed, not consistent cruising speed. And even that number still puts a flight from New York to London at around 5 hours. Wouldn't it be great if that were closer to 3 hours?

The supersonic business jets on the drawing boards and being prototyped now promise to do just that.

One frontrunner is the Aerion SBJ (Supersonic Business Jet). Backed by financing from Texas billionair Robert Bass, and the expertise of several highly experienced executives and engineers, Aerion plans to deliver the first model by 2011. While any business plan can go awry, especially when breaking new ground, the company has a solid plan and realistic technology.

The SBJ will use a considerable amount of technology already in existence, so the risk of failure due to untried methods is much lower. At the same time, the plane design is innovative in its handling of technical problems like airflow and sonic boom generation. But those two issues are being well handled.

Wind tunnel tests show that Richard Tracy, the brains behind the project who has been developing the ideas for 20 years, has laminar flow designs that work. Sonic booms are against regulations in some areas (like over major cities), and allowed in others (over the ocean). That means the plane can push to supersonic speeds in areas where booms are allowed and fly just under Mach 1 when it needs to in order to avoid them.

Other designers and companies have tried over the past decade to develop a supersonic business jet. Whether because of technical limitations or politics (some were joint business-government development projects, which are notorious for failure), the plans fizzled out. A Russian firm called Tupolev worked on the problem for a while, but have yet to deliver. A joint project between Gulfstream and a Moscow company called Sukhoi was dissolved after a few years.

But Lockheed and others have plans in the works that appear to be only somewhat behind Aerion. That's a good thing. Competition will help spur them on. No one can be certain they'll succeed, but men like Richard Tracy and Robert Bass are well known for delivering the goods. And the goods are impressive. The plane will reach a top speed of Mach 1.6 (1,200 miles per hour), more than twice as fast as a commercial jet. At the same time, the 30-foot cabin will accommodate up to 12 passengers in luxurious comfort.

While the planned price tag of $80 million is a bit on the high end for a smaller jet, many potential buyers are already lining up, hoping to get the plane. If, as looks very likely, Bass and Tracy deliver on their promises they will have revolutionized business jet travel. And that's what it's all about.