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Lockheed Martin joins AS2 supersonic jet project

US aerospace giant to co-develop Aerion AS2, a 12-seat executive jet projected to ply routes between Europe and the West Coast of the US at speeds up to MACH 1.4

The AS2 civil supersonic project, on which Aerion had previously been working with Airbus, has acquired a new major aerospace partner with Lockheed Martin’s announcement that its legendary ‘Skunk Works’ advanced development programmes team will work over the next 12 months to develop a framework for taking the project through engineering, certification and manufacturing. Aerion is already working with GE Aviation on developing engines for the aircraft.

Meanwhile in another supersonic development, Japan Airlines (JAL) has announced a partnership with Boom Supersonic, a US firm that is developing a larger MACH 2.2 aircraft, whereby the airline will invest $10m in the project and provide development assistance in return for an option to buy 20 planes.

A rendering of the AS2 with its new leading edge engine configuration. Image PRNewsfoto/Lockheed Martin

Aerion is a Reno, Nevada-based company that has been working on the supersonic business jet project for several years. Over two and a half years working with Airbus, it designed preliminary airframe and laminar wing structures for the AS2, advanced the aerodynamics from a smaller and lighter previous design, known as the SBJ, and devised systems layout and a fly-by-wire control concept. “We are grateful for Airbus' contribution to the programme," said Brian Barents, Aerion Executive Chairman. "We could not have moved the program to this stage without their support."

Lockheed has undertaken a review of the aerodynamic aspects of the work so far and decided that its Skunk Works is best-placed to take it forward.

“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," commented Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. Based in California, Skunk Works has previously produced famous military aircraft such as the altitude and speed record-breaking U2 and SR71 spy planes, the F-22 Raptor, and the F-35 Lightning II, but has not previously worked on civil aircraft.

In May this year, Aerion announced that it was working on the AS2’s engines with GE Aviation. The aircraft is projected to have three turbofan engines, one under each wing and one in the tail, each generating 67-76kN of thrust.

One recent outcome of this collaboration has been a revised design with the engines moved from their previous position over the trailing edge of the wing to the leading edge. The engine design is believed to be based on the core of a CFM56 engine, which has been operating for years on short-haul airliners such as the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320, with a new low-pressure section optimised for supersonic flight.

The Boom Supersonic announcement sees JAL joining Virgin in pre-ordering aircraft. Projected to carry 55 passengers, the Boom aircraft is a Concorde-like delta wing design rather than Aerion’s trapezoidal wing shape.

Boom is currently working on a one-third scale demonstrator, the XB-1 or ‘Baby Boom’, and is aiming for first subsonic flights next year with supersonic testing in 2019. Virgin holds an option for 10 jets, and its Spaceship Company subsidiary is assisting with manufacturing and testing.