Aerion and Lockheed Martin announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) today to define a formal and gated process to explore the feasibility of a joint development of the world’s first supersonic business jet, the Aerion AS2. Over the next 12 months, the companies will work together to develop a framework on all phases of the program, including engineering, certification and production.
The MOU is the result of extensive discussions between Aerion and Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works Advanced Development Programs team. For close to 75 years, Skunk Works has existed to create revolutionary aircraft that push the boundaries of what is possible. Lockheed Martin, known for developing the world’s leading supersonic combat aircraft, the F-16, the F-35, and F-22, as well as the Mach 3+ SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft, is committed to fostering new innovations and developing supersonic technologies with civil and commercial applications.
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. We are committed to remaining on the cutting edge of aerospace technology and are excited to examine the contribution we might make to working with Aerion on making aviation history.—Orlando Carvalho, Executive Vice President, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics
During the last two and a half years, Aerion advanced the aerodynamics and structural design of the AS2 through a previous engineering collaboration agreement with Airbus. Through that effort, the two companies developed a preliminary design of wing and airframe structures, systems layout, and preliminary concepts for a fly-by-wire flight control system.
In May 2017, GE Aviation announced an agreement with Aerion to define a supersonic engine for the AS2.
Aerion Corporation was formed in 2003 to introduce a new era of practical and efficient supersonic flight. Since then, Aerion has developed and demonstrated advanced wing technology in conjunction with NASA and other leading aeronautical institutions.
Aerion’s thin wing and horizontal stabilizer, with moderately swept leading edges, reduce spanwise flow, allowing for laminar flow on these surfaces. Friction (viscous) drag over the wing is reduced by about 70%. When the wing and tail are integrated with an optimized airframe, net friction drag reduction is up to 20% which, in aeronautical terms, is a huge leap in efficiency.
Aerion’s research includes work in supersonic natural laminar flow (SNLF), the key enabling technology behind the AS2 business jet.
Aerodynamicist Dr. Richard Tracy—a founder of Aerion and its chief technology officer—first posited the benefits of SNLF for a commercial aircraft in the 1990s. His research under contract to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) led to proving flights with NASA from 1999 to 2014.
In a series of NASA flights in which an Aerion-constructed SNLF airfoil was carried beneath an F-15B at speeds up to Mach 2, extensive laminar flow matched analytical predictions from Aerion’s proprietary software programs.
|NASA F-15B with SNLF wing mounted below fuselage. Despite disturbed airflow from the body of the F-15B, laminar flow remained stable and robust. Click to enlarge.|
These flights thus accomplished two goals: demonstrating robust laminar flow at subsonic and supersonic speeds; and validating the predictive capabilities of Aerion’s computer design tools, which are necessary to take practical advantage of SNLF.
|Aerion proprietary software rapidly analyzes airflow patterns over wings and airframe in a process of continuous refinement and optimization. Click to enlarge.|
To preserve the drag-reducing benefits of the Aerion wing, it must be carefully integrated into a low drag airframe. Aerion used proprietary full-airframe optimization software to arrive at the unique, streamlined shape of the AS2.
The 12-passenger AS2 is expected to fly at a maximum speed of Mach 1.4 over water, and, where permitted by regulation, at speeds approaching Mach 1.2 without a sonic boom reaching the ground.
With its unique supersonic natural laminar flow wing, the aircraft is expected to achieve long range (LA to Paris) and efficiency at supersonic and subsonic speeds. Once fielded, it will reduce trans-Atlantic trips by as much as three hours, enabling business leaders to fly roundtrip between New York and London in a day.
In November 2015, Aerion announced a fleet order from fractional aircraft fleet operator Flexjet for 20 AS2 aircraft. Aerion expects the AS2’s first flight in 2023 and certification in 2025.
Peter Sturdza (2007) “Extensive Supersonic Laminar Flow on the Aerion Business Jet” AIA 2007-685 doi: 10.2514/6.2007-685