Reno, Nevada-based Aerion plans to bring back commercial supersonic flight, which ended more than a decade ago when Concorde was retired after a crash.
Aerion is building a $120 million private jet with a top speed of Mach 1.6 – about 1,200mph – and which is capable of flying 5,000 miles. Aerion, which is working with Airbus to develop the aircraft, has taken last month a $2.4bn firm order from Flexjet for 20 of its AS2 airplanes, with the first flight expected in 2021.
The AS2 is expected to cost $4 billion to develop, produce and certify.
The aviation company is the latest venture of Texan billionaire Robert Bass, who is listed in Forbes 400 with a net worth of $2.7 billion. Mr. Bass and his three brothers inherited a fortune from their oil tycoon uncle Sid Richardson four decades ago and have been building on it ever since.
“The message from many of today’s long-range business jet operators is very clear: they want a supersonic jet sooner rather than later and are willing to pay more than $100 million for such an aircraft,” said Aerion’s CEO Doug Nichols, a former Bombardier senior adviser and Boeing Co. executive. “That is the jet we are working to deliver.”
Rolls Royce, the British engineering giant, is said to be interested in providing the engines for Aerion’s business jets, says The Telegraph.
“We are in discussion with airframe partners all the time, and we often carry out joint design studies and other technical assessments,” said Chris Young, president of Rolls Royce civil small and medium engines.
Aerion has set a target of certifying the AS2 in 2021 and placing it into service with customers in 2022.
Billionaires, dealmakers and chief executives are expected to be some of the first clients for the AS2, with its Mach 1.6 speed meaning that it would be able to fly almost anywhere in the world and back in a day, with time for a meeting at the destination.
Aerion Corp. is an aeronautical engineering organization dedicated to commercializing its proprietary supersonic technology. Since its founding in 2002, Aerion has invested more than $100 million in R&D, much of it in conjunction with NASA and other prominent aerospace research organizations, to develop concepts for a family of efficient supersonic jets. Over that time, it has developed, flown and proven supersonic natural laminar flow airfoils that reduce wing friction drag by as much as 80 percent, and overall airframe drag by as much as 20 percent.
These efforts have culminated in the Mach 1.5 AS2 business jet, capable of crossing the Atlantic or Pacific nearly twice as fast as today’s subsonic jets. The AS2 design is capable of a “boomless cruise” because the shock wave dissipates before reaching earth.
THE PATH TO A SUPERSONIC RENAISSANCE
The crucial work of developing and patenting SNLF technology began in the 1990s and was conducted by a predecessor company, ASSET Group (Affordable Supersonic Executive Transport), led by Dr. Richard R. Tracy, an expert in hypersonic and supersonic design.
In 1999 and 2000, ASSET performed supersonic test flights in collaboration with NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center (formerly NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center) confirming predicted levels of supersonic natural laminar flow—the enabling technology for a new generation of efficient supersonic aircraft.
ROBERT BASS, AERION CHAIRMAN & LEAD INVESTOR
Recognizing the potential of the SNLF concept, an investor group led by Robert M. Bass formed Aerion in 2002 to acquire ASSET and its team with the aim of commercializing the company’s supersonic technology.
As chairman of Aerion Corporation, Mr. Bass leads the investor group funding development of the AS2 supersonic business jet.
He is president of Keystone Group, L.P. and the founder of the Oak Hill family of funds, comprised of more than $45 billion of investments across multiple asset classes. Over the course of 40 years, he has successfully invested in the manufacturing, aviation, automotive, energy, and media and cable industries, among others.
Within aerospace, Mr. Bass has led investments in: Avolon Aerospace Limited, a global aircraft lessor with a portfolio of more than 260 aircraft; UK-based Firth Rixson, a producer of highly engineered jet engine components, which was sold to Alcoa; and Primus International, a leader in highly engineered aerospace parts with facilities in China and Thailand, since sold to Precision Cast Parts.
He has led investments in prominent consumer brand names such as American Skiing Company, Dave & Buster’s, Duane Reade, and The Container Store, as well as in major providers of worldwide business process outsourcing services, including EXL Services, Inc. and Genpact Limited (formerly GE Capital International Services), both with their principal operations in India.
He is a Trustee of Stanford University, Director of Stanford Management Company, and a Trustee of Rockefeller University, Middlesex School, and the Amon Carter Museum. He is past Chairman of Stanford University, Stanford Management Company, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Cook Children’s Medical Center.
He is a native of Fort Worth, Texas, where his offices are based. Robert Bass and his family have played a central role in the development of that city, investing heavily in downtown development, and funding the construction of a performance hall and several public plazas, among other real estate projects in the region.
He received his B.A. degree from Yale University and an MBA degree from Stanford Graduate School of Business.
PATENTS AND KNOWLEDGE BASE
Over time Aerion has amassed numerous patents and the world’s largest knowledge base of SNLF-based supersonic transport technology. It has conducted several additional flight tests in conjunction with NASA, confirming and refining SNLF concepts.
It has worked with the University of Washington Aeronautical Lab, the European Transonic Wind Tunnel and other leading international research organizations to optimize the design of a supersonic jet.
In conjunction with a team of Stanford University aerodynamicists, Aerion developed and refined computer design tools for the analysis of transonic and supersonic airflows and the aerodynamic optimization of a supersonic jet. In 2012, it acquired Palo Alto-based Desktop Aero, to better integrate its operations with the Reno engineering office, and also to offer its unique design tools to the aerospace industry.
The company introduced its Aerion Supersonic Business Jet (SBJ) to the aviation community in 2004 and opened its order book for this twin-engine design in 2007, almost instantly acquiring 50 orders backed by refundable deposits.
Although the recession of 2008 slowed the company’s discussions with potential manufacturing partners for this jet, a robust R&D effort continued apace, resulting in the 2014 announcement of the Aerion AS2, a larger, trijet aircraft employing SNLF technology. The AS2 evolved from extensive market research with potential customers for a larger, longer-range supersonic jet.